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Enjoying the Water

Towed Sports Safety

Towed watersports is a fun activity for the whole family. When enjoying the water behind the boat, remember these important safety tips:

  • Prevent propeller strikes by making sure to turn off your boat when riders get into or out of the boat (this goes for swimmers too)
  • Review hand signals with your riders, including slow down, speed up, and stop
  • Have a dedicated spotter in addition to the boat driver, so the driver can pay attention to other boaters rather than their rider
  • Maintain a safe distance from other boaters, docks, piers, and other water hazards
  • Be sure to follow the safe speed appropriate to your towed watersports activity
  • Be respectful to other boaters and property owners
  • Use extra care when towing more than one person
  • Avoid towing in congested areas and busy channels

Watch Your Wake

  • Be aware of your wake, especially when changing speeds.
  • Slow down enough to eliminate wake when needed.
  • Use Trim Tabs if the boat is so equipped to minimize your wake.
  • Boat in deeper waters, away from shore/other boats.
  • Arrange passengers to avoid creating a heavy stern; a heavy stern creates a big wake.
  • Slow down ahead of time to avoid a following wake.

Protect you and your passengers against other wakes

  • Warn passengers ahead of time.
  • Slow down but don’t stop. You need headway to be able to maneuver through the wake.
  • Keep older passengers aft (near the stern).
  • Cross at a slight angle to prevent the bow from being thrown high into the air.
  • While overtaking a boat, cross its wake quickly.
  • Try not to take a wake on your beam. Turn the bow into the wake at an angle and then resume course.

Paddling Safety

From mountain streams to the Chesapeake Bay and everywhere in between, there are many opportunities for enjoying the water with your paddlecraft. Just remember these safety tips.

  • Life jackets are required on all paddlecraft. Because paddlecraft can capsize easily and waters can become quickly hazardous, life jackets should always be worn.
  • Watch the weather and pay attention to water levels.
  • Paddle in areas that match your skill level.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Paddling in a group is better than paddling alone.
  • If paddling in areas with other boats, make sure you are visible by wearing bright colors or using a kayak safety flag and stay out of the main channels. If you must cross the channel, take the most direct route possible and make the crossing as quickly as possible.
  • Make sure you have a means to communicate.
  • Dress for immersion, the water temperatures in late fall and early spring can cause hypothermia if your paddlecraft capsizes.

Identify your vessel – the USCG and DWR have free stickers for paddlecraft so that lost paddlecraft can be returned to their owner.

Boat Ramps and Access Points

DWR-managed public boat access facilities are to be used for parking vehicles/trailers while boating and fishing, and are provided for this purpose only. Camping, swimming, sunbathing, loitering, or any other use of the property, other than launching or retrieving boats and/or fishing is prohibited and considered trespassing. Public display of alcoholic beverages is prohibited. No fishing from boating access piers. PWC staging on, or adjacent to, the boat ramp is prohibited.

Littering, dumping and destruction of state property laws will be strictly enforced on these properties.

Maps and driving directions may not work for all locations. Map information produced through Google is intended for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic conditions, or other events may differ from the map results. Remember to check a boat landing’s status before visiting.

Environmental Laws


It is illegal for anyone to pollute our waterways in Virginia. If you can’t recycle it, take it ashore to a trash receptacle. Please help keep the waterways clean by picking up your trash. If you see any source or indication of water pollution, such as dead fish, call your local Department of Environmental Quality regional office, or call 804-698-4000 or 800-592-5482.

Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Encounters

While boating in Virginia, you may encounter a variety of federally protected species including sea turtles and marine mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees and seals). All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), while manatees, some whale species and sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Sea turtles are common in the summer months in the coastal ocean in the Chesapeake Bay, and associated river mouths. Marine mammals are most common in the coastal ocean and Chesapeake Bay mouth, but can occur inside the Bay and associated river mouths as well. Dolphins can be seen year-round, while whales and seals are more frequently seen in the winter months.

Guidelines for approaching dolphins and seals suggest that vessels stay at least 150 feet away and cut the engine or remain in neutral if the animals approach you. Large whales such as humpback and fin whales can also be seen in the Chesapeake Bay and ocean waters off Virginia. Vessels are asked to remain at least 300 feet from these whales. Endangered North Atlantic right whales may also be seen off of Virginia’s coast between November and May. Federal law prohibits any vessel to approach within 1500 feet or 500 yards from these species. Vessels of certain sizes are also required by law to go 10 knots or less in designated areas and months each year. Visit the NOAA website for more information about viewing marine life.

Occasionally manatees are sighted in Virginia waters. Vessel operators should avoid approaching manatees as they are critically endangered and susceptible to vessel strikes. Be a responsible vessel operator and allow Virginia’s sea turtles and marine mammals to exist undisturbed in our waters, their natural habitat. Anyone who suspects a marine mammal or sea turtle is injured, entangled, or in distress is encouraged to call the hotline at (757) 385-7575.

The Marine Environment

Nuisance aquatic species, such as zebra mussels and hydrilla, can spread quickly, replace native species and damage water resources. Properly cleaning boats and equipment after each use can prevent the spread of invasive marine species.

Submersed aquatic vegetation (or SAV) are underwater plants often found in shallow (usually less than 6 feet) areas. They are important habitat for fish and shellfish, particularly the blue crab, and are a food source for several waterfowl species. Scientific studies have shown that SAV beds can be scarred by boat propellers or by larger craft if they run aground. When operating your boat in shallow areas, particularly at low tide, be careful to avoid damaging SAV.

Clean, Drain, Dry

All boat operators must do the following before departing a body of water:

  • Clean any aquatic organisms or vegetation from the boat, trailer, and equipment
  • Drain bilge tanks
  • Dry to the extent possible