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Activities > Boating Boating Rules and Regulations

Boating Regulations

The boating regulations contain information on the following topics: 

  • Water Body Restrictions

  • PWC

  • Life Jackets

  • Motor Size

  • Noise Limitations 

  • Rules of the Road

  • Enforcement

  • And more!

Operator Age Limit - Motorboats & Personal Watercraft

Children 12 years old or younger may not operate a motorboat or a personal watercraft powered by a motor rated at more than 10 horsepower unless accompanied by someone 18 years of age or older.

Youths 13 and 14 years of age may not operate those vessels without possessing a valid Montana motorboat operator's safety certificate or evidence of completing an approved boating safety course, or unless accompanied by someone 18 years of age or older.

Find a Course 


Lakes 35 Acres or Less (PDF)
All watercraft operating on public lakes and reservoirs in the western fishing district that are 35 acres or less of surface water are limited to no-wake speed. These lakes have been determined 35 acres or less by means of the 1:100,000-scale hydrography layer within the department’s geographic information system (GIS).

Lakes Greater than 35 Acres (PDF)
All watercraft operating on public lakes and reservoirs greater than 35 surface acres within the western fishing district are limited to no-wake speed from the shoreline to 200 feet from the shoreline.

The exceptions include:

  • PWC which must maintain a minimum operating speed to remain upright and maneuver in the water may travel at that minimum operating speed following the most direct route through the nowake zone to and from shore.

  • Motorized watercraft towing a skier from or to a dock or the shore, except that watercraft must travel the most direct route through the no-wake zone.


The following closures and public use restrictions are in effect for reasons of public health, safety or protection of property. Only authorized exceptions such as search and rescue, scientific purposes or special events with the director’s prior written approval are exempt. Some waterways have multiple restrictions that apply, so be sure to check all of the following sections for the body of water you plan to use. Other dams not listed here may also be posted for restricted access.


The following dams are closed to all boating, sailing, floating and swimming or closed to all public access as marked by boat restraining systems or signs.

  • The following lakes located with the Thompson Chain of Lakes in Lincoln county:

    • Crystal Lake - Horseshoe Lake

    • Loon Lake - Lower Thompson Lake

    • McGregor Lake - Middle Thompson Lake

    • Upper lobe of Upper Thompson Lake

  • Echo Lake in Flathead County is limited to a 200 feet from shoreline no wake speed except for the following areas:

    • (a) the upper three islands in the southwest corner of section 5, approximately 1/4 mile southeast of the entrance of Blackies Bay;

    • (b) the narrow corridor that serves as the entrance and exit to Blackies Bay located in the northwest corner of Echo Lake; and (c) the narrow corridor that serves as the entrance and exit to Causeway Bay located in the northeast corner of Echo Lake.

  • Lake Five in Flathead County

Races, Regattas, and Other Marine Events

Written permission from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is necessary to conduct a boating race, regatta or other marine event on Montana's waters. Letters of application must be sent at least 30 days prior to the scheduled event. Mail to: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Boating Law Enforcement, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.

Accidents, Collisions, and Casualties

Boating accident reports are required by law and provide valuable information for use in the prevention of future boating accidents. An accident must be reported immediately to the local sheriffs office or game warden if it caused:

  • the death or disappearance of any person
  • an injury requiring medical treatment beyond first-aid
  • property damage in excess of $100

The operator of a boat involved in a collision, accident, or other casualty must:

  • render practical assistance, without putting self or others in danger, to persons affected by the accident
  • give his or her name, address and identification of the boat in writing to any person injured and to the owner of any damaged property.

Boating accident report forms are available from the county sheriff's office, game wardens, or any Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks office.

Boat Registration and Fees

Which boats must be registered

Sailboats 12 feet long and longer and all motorboats and personal watercraft must be registered and numbered. Non-motorized sailboats less than 12 feet long and manually propelled boats, regardless of length, are exempt from registration and taxation. Also exempt are a vessel’s lifeboat and government-owned boats.

How to register a boat


Boat owners must obtain a certificate of ownership (title) and certificate of number (registration) and pay all fees to the County Treasurer in the county where the owner resides. The certificate of number must be carried on board the boat and be available for inspection whenever the boat is in operation. Registration fees are based on the length and age of the vessel.


Boats that are properly registered in another state or country may operate in Montana for up to 90 consecutive days.

Homemade Vessels

Homemade boats or boats manufactured before 1972 that require registration must first have a hull identification number. Generally the 12-digit hull identification (HIN) number is on the exterior of the vessel’s transom in the upper-right corner.

A boat owner may obtain a HIN number from any Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional or area office. The application fee is $5. The boat owner is responsible for permanently affixing the HIN number on the boat and having the boat inspected by a peace officer.

Permanent Registration

Under MCA 61-3-321, all motorboats, personal watercraft, motorized pontoons and sailboats 12 in length and longer must be permanently registered. This is done through the County Treasurer's Office.

  • Certificate of Ownership (title): $10
  • All Motorboats, Personal Watercraft, and Motorized Pontoons less than 16 feet in length, and Sailboats at least 12 feet in length but less than 16 feet in length: $65.50
  • All Motorboats, Motorized Pontoons and Sailboats at least 16 feet in length but less than 19 feet in length, and Personal Watercraft 16 feet in length or longer: $125.50
  • All Motorboats, Motorized Pontoons and Sailboats 19 feet in length and longer: $295.50

Boating Decals

Request an FWP Decal

View the quick reference on Understanding Montana's Required Boat Decals

Boat numbers

The boat number must:

  • be painted on or attached to each side of the bow of the vessel;
  • read from left to right;
  • be vertical block letters at least 3 inches in height;
  • be a color contrasting with the background color of the boat;
  • be as high above the water line as practical and still be visible;
  • be maintained in a legible condition;
  • contain a space or hyphen separating the "MT" from the number/letter suffix. (Example: MT 1234 AB or MT – 1234 - AB)


Permanent decal

Permanent decal

The boat owner will receive one permanent registration decal as proof of payment of fees in lieu of tax. The permanent decal must be displayed on the left (port) bow behind the boat’s number. The permanent decal is valid until the current owner sells the watercraft.


Validation decal

Validation decal

All motorboats, sailboats, and personal watercraft that are numbered must display two validation decals, one on each side of the boat’s bow behind the boat’s number.

Validation decals may be obtained, free of charge, at any Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional/area offices or online:

Orange validation decals will expire February 28, 2026. Boat owners should remove each red decal or cover it with the new orange decal.