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Buy & Apply Boating Regulations & Registration

Which boats must be registered

Sailboats 12 feet and longer and all motorboats and personal watercraft must be registered, numbered, and have two decals (a permanent decal and validation decal). 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.

Boating registration is covered under: MCA 61-3-107 and MCA 23-2-508.

How to register a boat

Residents

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.

Nonresidents

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.

River Recreation Permits

Permits and special restrictions are in place on some of the rivers in Montana as a way to protect the recreational experience and the river resources. Visit the Special Use River Permits page for details on requirements for the Bitterroot, Blackfoot, Clark Fork, Beaverhead, Big Hole, Madison, and Smith Rivers.

Display of boat numbers and 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

The boat owner will receive one permanent registration decal as proof of payment of fees in lieu of tax. This decal is available at the County Treasurer's Office in the county where the boat owner resides. 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.

Understanding Montana's Required Boat Decals >

 

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 Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional offices or online. New boat owners can obtain a validation decal from their County Treasurer when registering a new boat.

Validation decals are issued in 3-year blocks. The latest validation decals are red and will expire February 28, 2023. 

Order your boat validation decal online >

 

Fees

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 Laws

 

Know the Laws

It is your responsibility to know and follow established rules and regulations. 

In addition to state boating laws, local government and federal agency regulations may apply to boating activities in some areas.

Contact the County Sheriff's Office or the federal agency for the area where you will be boating to find out if any additional regulations are in effect.

  • MCA 23-2-5 defines the laws for registering and operating watercraft in Montana.

  • ARM 12.8.212 defines the rules for boating and swimming areas.

  • ARM 12.11 covers no-wake zones, boat equipment requirements, and regulations for specific bodies of water.

 

Montana Boating Regulations

 

Operator Age Limit 

  • Children 12 years 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.
  • Anyone 13 and 14 years old may operate a motorboat or a personal watercraft powered by a motor rated at more than 10 horsepower only if:

 

Rented Boats and Watercraft

A person must be 18 years or older to rent a motorboat or a personal watercraft powered by a motor rated at more than 10 horsepower. All required equipment (see below) and a copy of the rental agreement must be on board rented vessels.

 

Water Skiing and Using Other Towed Devices

  • Water skiing and other towed recreation is not allowed between sunset and sunrise.
  • There must be at least two people in the towing boat: an operator and a person to observe the skier. If the operator is 12 or younger, the observer must be at least 18.
  • Anyone towed by a boat must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD).
  • Water skiers must not approach within 50 feet of swimmers or enter a designated swimming area.

 

Personal Watercraft: Jet Skis, Water Bikes, Etc.

  • A personal watercraft is a motor boat that the rider sits or stands on, rather than inside of. Personal watercraft must follow the same rules and equipment requirements as other boats.
  • All operators and riders must wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, or personal flotation device (PFD).
  • If the personal watercraft is equipped with a lanyard-type cord that shuts off the engine if the operator falls off the craft, the lanyard must be attached to the operator's wrist or PFD.
  • A "no-wake" speed must be maintained when within 200 feet of a dock, swimmer, swimming raft, non-motorized boat, or anchored vessel.
  • Stand-up personal watercraft and personal watercraft towing a waterskier must travel at the minimum speed necessary to operate when leaving from or returning to a dock or shore.

 

Alcohol and Drug Use

It is unlawful to operate or be in actual physical control of a motorboat, sailboat, water skis, surfboard, or similar device attached to a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person with an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more is considered under the influence of alcohol. [MCA 61-8-4]

 

Negligent Operation

Operating a vessel in a manner which may endanger the personal health or damage the property of any person is considered negligent operation. A boat's owner is liable for any injury or damage resulting from negligent operation.

Observe all "no wake" and speed-limit signs located on the water. Boaters are responsible for any damage caused by their wake.

Montana law prohibits:

  • operating a boat in a careless manner including such things as weaving through congested traffic, passing unreasonably or unnecessarily close to another vessel, and buzzing or wetting down others
  • crossing or jumping the wake of another boat within 100 yards of the vessel or within 100 yards of a water skier being towed by the vessel (except when directly entering or leaving a marina or other watercraft docking/loading area)
  • travel at a speed which does not permit bringing the boat to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead
  • a reckless approach to, departure from, or passage by a dock, ramp, diving board, or float

 

Restricted Areas - General

  • Do not anchor in a position that obstructs a passageway ordinarily used by other vessels.
  • Do not operate your boat within 20 feet of the exterior boundary of a designated swimming area marked by white and orange buoys.
  • Do not operate a boat within 75 feet of a person engaged in fishing or hunting waterfowl unless it is unavoidable. If unavoidable travel at no wake speed or at the minimum speed necessary to maintain upstream progress.
  • Do not operate a motorboat within 200 feet of a tow-float or buoy displaying a red flag with a white slash indicating a "diver down" except by use of sailor oar. In an emergency or if there is insufficient water on either side to avoid passing through the 200-foot safety zone, do not exceed the "no wake" speed. (Note: the burden of proof of the necessity of passing through the safety zone is on the boat operator.)
  • Do not operate or beach your motorboat within a designated swimming area.
  • Do not operate your motorboat within 50 feet of a swimmer in the water except for boats towing water skiers.

 

Harassment of Wildlife

Powerboats, sailboats and boats under sail may not be used to kill, capture, take, pursue, concentrate, drive, or stir up any upland game birds, game, or fur-bearing animals. Motor-driven vehicles may not be used to drive, molest, flush or harass any game animal or game bird while hunting.

 

Launching and Mooring

  • Boats must be launched from established launching areas if provided.
  • Boat owners should prepare their vessel for launching before parking at the boat ramp, should launch the vessel quickly, and move the tow vehicle so that others may use the area.
  • Boats may not be left unattended while moored or attached to a public boat dock.
  • Docks are to be used only for loading and unloading unless otherwise posted.

 

Discharge of Waste

It is illegal to discharge any garbage, refuse, waste, or sewage into or near the water. Boats equipped with toilets or porta-potties must dispose of waste properly. Because there are so few marine pumpout stations in Montana, boaters should check on the local availability of waste disposal stations before using their on-board facilities.

List of dump site locations 

 

Motor Size

It is illegal as well as unsafe to overpower a boat. The U.S. Coast Guard Capacity Plate on each boat provides the recommended horse power for that vessel.

 

Noise Limitations

  • Motorboats and personal watercraft may not emit noise in excess of 86 decibels measured at a distance of 50 feet.
  • At idle speed, exhaust noise may not be in excess of 90 decibels measured one meter from the muffler.
  • More restrictive noise standards are in effect for Flathead Lake (Flathead and Lake Counties), Echo Lake (Flathead County) and Swan Lake (Lake County) because of population density and heavy recreational use. On these waterways, a person may not operate a motorboat or personal watercraft in proximity to the shore-line if the noise emitted is greater than 75 decibels measured at shoreline in accordance with the shoreline sound level measurement procedure.
  • Certain exceptions are made for state-sanctioned regattas or boat races and by special permit.

 

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.

 

Diver Down Flag Warning

Boaters must stay at least 200 feet away from a "diver down" flag. If a boat must approach this warning flag, it must do so at a "no wake" speed.

The commonly used diver down warning flags are:

  1. The blue and white International Code Flag "A" (alpha)
  2. A red flag with a diagonal white stripe Diver's Flag

 

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.

 

Enforcement

Authorized officers of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks have peace officer status for enforcement of the boating regulations. Sheriffs, peace officers, and U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement officers also have authority to enforce these provisions. Fish, Wildlife & Parks wardens are authorized to stop, halt, or inspect vessels in order to enforce the laws of this state.

 

Penalties

A person convicted of violating Montana's boating laws or regulations may be fined up to $500 and sentenced for up to six months in jail.

 

Rules of the Road

These rules of the road are the traffic laws of Montana's waterways. Like other traffic laws, they are legally binding on vessel operators. The rules dictate who has the right of way when vessels meet in open water and in crowded anchorages.

Sailboats and manually powered vessels have the right of way over motorized boats in nearly all situations. Motorboats generally should stay clear of sailboats and manually powered vessels and not create a wake which may cause them trouble or to be swamped.

Overtaking another vessel

When overtaking another vessel, the boat being overtaken has the right of way and must hold course and speed. The passing boat is required to stay clear.

Meeting another vessel head on

When meeting head on, keep to the right. Boats going downstream have the right of way over boats going upstream.

Crossing another vessel

When two boats are meeting at right angles, the boat on the right (the privileged vessel) has the right of way. The give-way vessel on the left must slow down and permit the privileged vessel to pass.

Always operate a vessel at a safe speed so that you are able to stop within the assured visible distance ahead or take proper and effective action to avoid collision.

 

No-Wake Zones on Lakes

No wake speed is defined as a speed whereby there is no "white" water in the track or path of the vessel or in created waves immediate to the vessel.

Lakes greater than 35 acres

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:

  • Personal watercraft 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 no-wake 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 lakes located within 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

Lakes 35 acres or fewer

All watercraft operating on public lakes and reservoirs in the western fishing district that are 35 acres or fewer of surface water are limited to a no-wake speed. The following list of lakes has been determined 35 acres or fewer by means of the 1:100,000-scale hydrography layer within the department's geographic information system (GIS).

List of Lakes Less Than 35 Acres in Size with Public Access 

Required Equipment

Montana and federal laws require that basic safety items be on board all boats.

Personal flotation devices (Life jackets)

  • U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices (PFDs or life jackets) must fit the intended wearer, be readily accessible, and be in good condition.

  • Children under 12 years of age must wear a life jacket on a boat less than 26 feet in length that is in motion.
  • There must be a wearable life jacket (Type I, II, or III) for each person on vessels less than 16 feet long (including canoes and kayaks of any length). A Type IV throwable device may NOT be substituted for wearable life jackets.
  • Vessels 16 feet and longer must have one Type I, II or III life jacket for each person on board. In addition, one U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type IV throwable device must be on board and be immediately available for use.
  • A Type V life jacket may be used in place of any life jacket if specifically approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for the activity in which the wearer is engaged. The Type V life jacket must be worn at all times to be acceptable.
  • Sailboard operators (wind-surfers) under 15 years of age must wear a life jacket at all times. If two or more persons are occupying a sailboard, each person must wear a life jacket.
  • Anyone towed by a boat must wear a life jacket.
  • All persons operating or riding on a personal watercraft must wear a life jacket.
  • Anglers using float tubes, belly boats, pontoon boats or kick boats, read the "Do you need a life jacket?" poster to determine whether you need a life jacket on board.
  • Learn about the different types of lifejackets: Download the brochure 

 

Fire extinguishers

All motorboats must carry on board a U.S. Coast Guard approved fire extinguisher as listed below:

  • Motorboats less than 26 feet long must have at least one B-1 fire extinguisher. Exception: motorboats less than 26 feet long that are propelled by an outboard motor and are completely open construction (no closed spaces where gasoline fumes may be trapped) are not required to have a fire extinguisher.

  • Motorboats 26 feet to less than 40 feet long must have at least two B-1 or one B-II fire extinguishers.
  • Motorboats 40 feet to not more than 65 feet long must have at least three B-1 or one B-1 , and one B-II fire extinguishers.
  • When a fixed fire extinguishing system is installed and operational in the machinery space of a boat, one less B-1 fire extinguisher is required.

 

Marine fire extinguisher classification

A fire extinguisher is classified by the type of fire it is meant to extinguish and its size. Extinguishers approved for motorboats are hand-portable of either B-1 or B-II classification.

Classification (type-size) Foam (minimum gallons) Carbon Dioxide (minimum pounds) Dry Chemical (minimum pounds) Halon (minimum pounds)

B-I

1 1/4

4

2

2 1/2

B-II

2 1/2

15

10

10

 

Backfire flame arresters

Every inboard gasoline engine must be equipped with a backfire flame arrester that is securely attached to the carburetor and in proper working order.

 

Ventilation

All boats of closed construction (the engine or fuel compartments are not open to the atmosphere) and which use gasoline as fuel must be equipped with a ventilation system to remove explosive vapors from the bilges of engine and fuel tank compartments. The explosive vapors are heavier than air and accumulate in the bottom of the boat without proper venting, creating an extremely hazardous condition.

Montana requires at least two ventilation intake ducts fitted with cowls or their equivalent to vent bilges and fuel tank compartments. At least one intake duct must be installed so that it extends to the point at least midway to the bilge, or at least below the level of the carburetor air intake. At least one exhaust duct must be installed so as to extend to the lower portion of the bilge. The duct should not be located so that a normal accumulation of bilge water would obstruct it.

Remember to adequately ventilate your boat before starting it by running your blower for at least 4 minutes - especially after fueling.

 

Whistles, horns and bells

  • Sirens may not be used or installed except on authorized emergency vessels.
  • A motorboat 16 to 26 feet long must carry some means of producing an efficient sound signal that is audible for one-half mile, such as a whistle or a horn.
  • A motorboat more than 26 feet long must have on board a bell and a whistle or horn capable of making a sound that is audible for one mile.

 

Maneuvering and warning signals

One Long Blast:

warning signal (coming out of a slip)

One Short Blast:

I will pass you on my port (left) side

Two Short Blasts:

I will pass you on any starboard (right) side

Three Short Blasts:

I am in reverse

Five or More Blasts:

danger signal

 

Navigational lights

Between sunset and sunrise and at other times of restricted visibility, vessels in operation must display navigational lights. All white lights required by the rules must be visible from a distance of at least two miles. All colored lights must be visible for a distance of at least one mile.

Navigation lights include:

  • a green light on the starboard (right) side of the boat
  • a red light on the port (left) side of the boat
  • a white light that is visible in all directions (usually located on the stern and higher than the red and green lights)

Manually propelled (non-motorized) boats may exhibit navigation lights or instead carry a white light which can be exhibited in time to prevent a collision.

Boats at anchor outside of a designated mooring area must display an all-around white anchor light between sunset and sunrise.

Closures & Use Restrictions

Dams

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.

Name of Dam

Restriction

Black Eagle Dam

 

500' above dam to 100' below the waterfalls. Closed to all public access below ordinary high-water mark from the dam to 100' below the waterfalls.

Canyon Ferry Dam

 

The area immediately above and below the dam is closed to all watercraft as posted or marked by boat restraining systems,

Cochrane Dam

 

500' above the dam to 500' below the dam.

Cochrane Reservoir

 

Closed to boating, sailing, floating, swimming, personal watercraft use, and waterfowl hunting.

Flint Creek Dam

 

100' above the dam to 150' below the dam.

Hauser Dam

 

250' above the dam to 600' below the dam. Closed to all public access below ordinary high-water mark from the dam to 100' below the dam from December 1 to April 1.

Hebgen Dam

 

100' above the dam to 100' below the outlet works.

Holter Dam

 

150' above the dam to 900' below the dam.

Kerr Dam

 

The area immediately above the dam is closed to all watercraft as posted or marked.

Madison Dam

 

600' above the dam to 700' below the dam.

Morony Dam

 

500' above the dam to 500' below the dam.

Mornoy Reservoir

 

Closed to all boating, sailing, floating, swimming, personal watercraft use, and waterfowl hunting.

Mystic Dam

 

100' above the dam to the dam. Closed to all public access below ordinary high-water mark from the south side of West Rosebud Creek from the powerhouse to the USGS concrete weir.

Rainbow Dam

 

600' above the dam to 100' below the dam. Closed to all public access below ordinary high-water mark from the dam to 4,400' below the dam to the east end of the Tailrace Island adjacent to the Rainbow dam powerhouse.

Ryan Dam

 

500' above the dam to 100' below the waterfalls. Closed to all public access below ordinary high-water mark from the dam to the east end of Ryan Island.

Ryan Reservoir

 

Closed to all boating, sailing, floating, swimming, personal watercraft use, and waterfowl hunting.

Thompson Falls Dam

 

1,020' above the dam to 500' below the dam.

Toston Dam

 

Between the dam and 300' downstream and the reservoir between the dam and the boat barrier.

W. Rosebud Dam

 

100' above the dam to the dam.

 

County-Wide Restrictions

The following public use restrictions are in effect for reasons of public health, safety or protection of property. Only authorized exceptions such as search and rescue craft are exempt.

These restrictions apply to all rivers and streams in the counties.

County

Restriction

Beaverhead County

Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower

Broadwater County

Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower.
Exception: Missouri River down river from Broadwater-Gallatin county line.

Gallatin County

Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower
Exception: Missouri River down river from Headwaters State Park.

Jefferson County

Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower

Madison County

Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower

Park County

Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower
Exception: Yellowstone River down river from the Highway 89 Bridge near mouth of Shields River.

Silver Bow County

Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower

 

Waterbody Restrictions

The following list of waterbodies have restrictions on the type of watercraft allowed, define no-wake speed areas, and identify lakes with water-ski directional rules.

Arapooish Pond, Big Horn County: Closed to all motorboats

Banana Lake (in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Bearmouth Rest Area Pond, Granite County: Closed to all motorboats

Bearpaw Lake, Hill County: Closed to all motorboats

Beaver Creek Reservoir, Hill County: Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower; boats must travel at no-wake speed.

Beaver Lake (near Whitefish), Flathead County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from 5 AM-10 AM and 7 PM-11 PM each day.

Beaverhead River, Beaverhead, Madison Counties: See the Montana Fishing Regulations for special angling and boating restrictions that apply to commercial outfitters and nonresidents.

Beavertail Pond, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Big Hole River, Silver Bow, Madison, Deer Lodge, Beaverhead Counties: Closed to all motorboats. All floaters are limited to a total of 2 launches at or near each official access site each day. See the Montana Fishing Regulations for special angling and boating restrictions that apply to commercial outfitters and nonresidents.

Bighorn River, Big Horn County: Closed to all motorboats from Afterbay Dam to the Bighorn Fishing Acess Site.

Bitterroot River & Tributaries, Missoula, Ravalli Counties: Closed to all motorized watercraft from the headwaters to the confluence with the Clark Fork River.
Exception:  (1) Motorized watercraft of 20 hp or less are permitted from the headwaters to the confluence with the Clark Fork River from October 1 to January 31. [View map of Restrictions (PDF)]

Blackfoot River, Missoula, Powell Counties: Closed to all motorized watercraft from the headwaters to the confluence with the Clark Fork River. [View map of Restrictions (PDF)]

Blanchard Lake, Blanchard Lake is on the Clearwater River, Missoula County: Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower.

Bootjack Lake, Bootjack Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Bozeman Pond, Gallatin County: Closed to all motorboats

Branum Pond, Custer County: Closed to all motorboats

Browns Lake, Powell County: Closed to all boats from April 1 to July 15, that portion of lake as marked or posted.

Cad Lake, Cad Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Canyon Ferry Reservoir, Broadwater, Lewis & Clark Counties: Boats must travel at no-wake speed within 300 feet of dock or as buoyed in the following areas: White Earth, Goose Bay, Yacht Basin, Cave Bay, Little Hellgate, Magpie Bay, Carp Bay, and from Canyon Ferry Dam to Riverside boat ramp.

Carpenter Lake (Tetrault Lake), Lincoln County: Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower

Carter Ponds (Upper & Lower), Fergus County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Castle Rock Reservoir, Rosebud County: Manually powered or electric motors only. No vessel of any type nor swimming are permitted within 100 yards of the intake structure.

Cibid Lake, Cibid Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Clark Fork River & Tributaries (Headwaters to Kelly Island FAS/Grass Valley Ditch Diversion), Deer Lodge, Granite, Missoula, Powell Counties: Closed to all motorized watercraft from the headwaters to Kelly Island (Spurgin Road) Fishing Access Site boat ramp and the Grass Valley Ditch Diversion. [View map of Restrictions (PDF)]

Clark Fork River (Kelly Island FAS/Grass Valley Ditch Diversion to Harper's Bridge FAS), Missoula County: Closed to all motorized watercraft from Kelly Island (Spurgin Road) Fishing Access Site boat ramp and the Grass Valley Ditch Diversion to Harper's Bridge Fishing Access Site.
Exception:  (1) Motorized watercraft, except personal watercraft, are permitted from May 1 to June 15. (2) Motorized watercraft of 20 hp or less are permitted from October 1 to January 31. [View map of Restrictions (PDF)]

Clark Fork River (Harper’s Bridge FAS to St. John’s FAS), Missoula, Mineral Counties: Closed to all motorized watercraft from Harper’s Bridge Fishing Access Site to St. John’s Fishing Access Site. Exceptions: (1) Motorized watercraft, except personal watercraft, are permitted from October 1 to June 15. (2) Motorized watercraft of 20hp or less are permitted from June 16 to September 30. [View map of Restrictions (PDF)]

Clark Fork River (St. John’s FAS to mouth of Fish Creek), Mineral County: Closed to all motorized watercraft From St. John's Fishing Access Site to the mouth of Fish Creek (also known as the Alberton Gorge Whitewater section). [View map of Restrictions (PDF)]

Clearwater Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Clearwater River, Missoula County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from the outlet of Seeley lake to the first bridge downstream from Camp Paxson swim dock; and from Boy Scout Road Bridge north of Seeley Lake to the mouth of Clearwater River at the north end of Seeley Lake.

Cochrane Reservoir, Cascade County: Closed to all boating, sailing, floating, swimming, personal watercraft use, and waterfowl hunting.

Colt Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Cooney Reservoir, Carbon County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in all of Willow Creek arm as buoyed; and in North Shore and Marshall Cover within 300 feet of dock as buoyed.  Boats pulling, taking off with, and landing water skiers will travel in general counterclockwise direction.

Cottonwood Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Crystal Lake, Fergus County: Manually powered or electric motors only

East Gallatin Pond, Gallatin County: Closed to all motorboats

Echo Lake, Flathead County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed.
Exception: upper three islands in the southwest corner of section 5, approximately 1/4 mile southeast of the entrance of Blackies Bay; the narrow corridor that serves as the entrance and exit to Blackies Bay located in the northwest corner of Echo Lake; and the narrow corridor that serves as the entrance and exit to Causeway Bay located in the northeast corner of Echo Lake.

Elsina Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Ennis Lake, Madison County: Closed to all motorboats in Kobayashi Bay swimming area as marked by buoys.

Fitzpatrick Lake, Toole County: Closed to all motorboats

Flathead Lake, Flathead County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from Bigfork Bay to 100 yards west of the Highway 35 bridge, and as buoyed.

Flathead River (North Fork), Flathead County: Closed to all motorboats from the Canadian border to Camas bridge. Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower from the Camas bridge to the confluence of the Middle Fork.

Flathead River (Middle Fork), Flathead County: Closed to all motorboats from Bear Creek into the wilderness. Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower from Bear Creek to the confluence of the South Fork.

Flathead River (South Fork), Flathead County: Closed to all motorboats from Spotted Bear Creek into the wilderness. Closed to motorboats over 10 horsepower from Spotted Bear footbridge to the Hungry Horse Reservoir.

Forest Lake, Meagher County: Closed to all motorboats

Fort Peck Dredge Cut Trout Pond, Valley County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Fort Peck Reservoir, Garfield, McCone Counties: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in Rock Creek Marina and Hell Creek Marina within 300 feet of docks or as buoyed.

Frenchtown Pond, Missoula County: Closed to all motorboats

Fresno Reservoir, Hill County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in the area around the Fresno boat club docks, public boat ramp area, swimming, and beach area as buoyed and signed.

Gartside Reservoir, Richland County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Georgetown Lake, Deerlodge, Granite Counties: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from the mouth of Stuart Mill Bay as marked by buoys and continuing to shore.

Harpers Lake, Missoula County: Limited to manually operated watercraft and watercraft powered by electric motors

Harrison Lake (Willow Creek Reservoir), Madison County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in all of Willow Creek Arm and Norwegian Arm as buoyed 6 PM – 11 AM.

Hauser Reservoir, Lewis & Clark County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in the following areas: Lakeside Marina and Hauser Lake State Park at Black Sandy beach within 300 feet of the docks or as buoyed. Spokane Creek Bay within 500 feet from mouth of bay as buoyed. From Canyon Ferry Dam to Riverside boat ramp. Devil's Elbow Campground from the shore to 100 feet into the river channel or as buoyed. Clark's Bay from shore to 300 feet from shore or as buoyed. York Bridge fishing access site within 300 feet of boat ramp and dock area as buoyed. White Sandy Recreation Area within 300 feet of docks and swim area as buoyed.

Hauser Reservoir, Lewis & Clark County: Closed to all watercraft from October 15 to December 15, the upper end of reservoir from Canyon Ferry Dam to below Brown's Gulch as marked.

Hebgen Lake, Gallatin County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in the following areas: Rainbow Point Bay as buoyed; Loneshomehurst Campground within 200 feet of shoreline or as buoyed; Kirkwood Resort Marina and residential area and private marina within 200 feet of shoreline or as buoyed; Happy Hour Marina Yellowstone Holiday Arm Resort within 200 feet of docks or as buoyed.

Helena Valley Regulating Reservoir, Lewis & Clark County: Manually powered or electric motors only. Swimming and wading are prohibited.  Windsurfers wearing a wet suit or dry suit are permitted in designated area.

Henry Reservoir, Toole County: Closed to all motorboats

Hidden Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Holland Lake, Missoula County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in Holland Lake Lodge and the Bay Loop campground within 300 feet or as buoyed.

Holter Lake, Lewis & Clark County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in the following areas: Bureau of Land Management boat landing as buoyed, Juniper Bay, Log Gulch, Departure Point, Merriweather Camp, and Holter Lake Lodge docks. Gates of the Mountains Marina Marina within 300 feet of docks or as buoyed.

Holter Lake (upper), Lewis & Clark County: No water skiing on Saturday and Sunday and all legal holidays from the mouth of the canyon on upper Holter Lake to Gates of the Mountains near Mann Gulch, as marked.

Hyalite Reservoir, Gallatin County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Inez Lake, Missoula County: Boats pulling, taking off with, and landing water skiers will travel in general counterclockwise direction.

Johnson Reservoir, Dawson County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Lake Alva, Missoula County: Boats must travel at no wake speed

Lake Dinah, Missoula County: Closed to all motorboats

Lake Elmo, Yellowstone County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Lake Helena, Lewis & Clark County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from April 1 to the opening day of waterfowl season.

Lake Koocanusa, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in Cripple Horse Bay within 300 feet of docks or as buoyed.

Lake Marshall, Missoula County: Limited to manually operated watercraft and watercraft powered by electric motors

Lavon Lake, Lavon Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed; including the channel between Lavon and Crystal lakes.

Leon Lake, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Lilly Pad Lake, Lilly Pad Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Little Loon Lake, Little McGregor Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Little McGregor Lake, Flathead County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Little Rainbow Lake, Little Rainbow Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Lost Lake, Lost Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Lower Carter Pond, Fergus County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Middle Thompson Lake, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed, only the channel between Middle and Lower Thompson lakes.

Missouri River (see also Canyon Ferry, Fort Peck, Hauser, and Holter Reservoirs), Gallatin, Broadwater, Lewis & Clark, Cascade Counties: Closed to all motorboats from the Burlington Northern Railway Bridge No. 119.4 at Broadwater Bay in Great Falls to Black Eagle. Also, the part of the river extending from the Warden Bridge on 10th Ave. S in Great Falls to the floater take-out facility near Oddfellows Park at Broadwater Bay as posted.  Personal watercraft prohibited on the headwaters of the Missouri River downstream to its confluence with Prewett Creek, except in Missouri River reservoirs, and including all tributaries but not their reservoirs.

Missouri River, Lewis & Clark County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from Hauser Dam downstream to Beaver Creek.

Missouri River, Contact the Bureau of Land Management for seasonal boating restrictions on the "wild and scenic" portion of river from Fort Benton to James Kipp Recreation Area (Fred Robinson Bridge). Phone (877) 256-3252 or (406) 622-4015. Blaine, Choteau, Fergus, Phillips Counties: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Morony Reservoir, Cascade County: Closed to all boating, sailing, floating, swimming, personal watercraft use, and waterfowl hunting.

Morrell Lake, Missoula County: Closed to all motorboats

Myron Lake, Myron Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes., Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Park Lake, Jefferson County: Closed to all motorboats

Pelican Point Fishing Access Ponds, Cascade County: Closed to all motorboats

Placid Creek, Missoula County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from its headwaters to the confluence with Placid Lake.

Rainbow Lake, Rainbow Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Rainy Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Ryan Reservoir, Cascade County: Closed to all boating, sailing, floating, swimming, personal watercraft use, and waterfowl hunting.

Salmon Lake, Missoula County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in the following areas: Clearwater River from the Placid Lake Road Bridge to Salmon Lake; that portion known as Legendary Lodge Narrows near the South end of the lake; and the area south of Salmon Cove Point (Eagle's Nest) to the lake's outlet.

Savage Lake, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed during the hours of 5 AM – 10 AM and 7 PM – 11 PM each day.

Seeley Lake, Missoula County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in the northern most portion of lake from where Deer Creek flows into the west side of the lake, following a straight line across the lake to where Rice Creek flows into the east side of the lake and continuing north to shore, as marked. Boats pulling, taking off with, and landing water skiers will travel in general counterclockwise direction.

Smith River, Requires a recreational float permit, Cascade, Meagher Counties: Closed to all motorboats

South Sandstone Reservoir, Fallon County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Spook Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Spring Meadow Lake, Lewis & Clark County: Closed to all motorboats

Summit Lake, Missoula County: Manually powered or electric motors only

Swan Lake, Lake County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed, including northern outlet of Swan Lake approximately 3/4 of a mile south to the southern tip of the southern most island or as buoyed.

Swan River, Lake County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from the mouth of Swan Lake upstream to Porcupine Bridge approximately 4.5 miles. From July 1 to September 15 no-wake speed or the minimum operating speed necessary to progress upstream from where the Swan River flows out of Swan Lake in Lake County to where Bear Creek enters the Swan River in Flathead County.

Tetrault Lake (Carpenter Lake), Lincoln County: Closed to all motorboats over 10 hp.

Thompson Lakes, Refer to Middle or Upper Thompson lakes for restrictions., Lincoln County

Tongue River Reservoir, Big Horn County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in the following areas: As buoyed in the marina area at Campers Point; the entire Tongue River Reservoir from shoreline to 300 feet from the shoreline from the south point that forms Corral Creek Bay (DNRC cabin site bay), north to the face of the dam, west along the dam face, and south along the west shore of the reservoir to the point where the Tongue River enters the reservoir; Rattlesnake Bay, Campers Point Bay, Pee Wee Point Bay, Cormorant Bay, Corral Creek Bay (DNRC cabin site bay), and Tongue River from the Wyoming border to the Tongue River Reservoir. Exceptions: (1) Personal watercraft 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 no-wake zone to and from shore.  (2) Motorized watercraft towing a skier from a dock or the shore.

Topless Lake, Topless Lake is in the Thompson Chain of Lakes, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Upper Carter Pond, Fergus County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Upper Thompson Lake, Lincoln County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in middle and lower lobes.

Upsata Lake, Missoula County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Whitefish River, Flathead County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed from its confluence with Whitefish Lake to the bridge on the JP Road.

Whitetail Reservoir, Daniels County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed

Willow Creek Reservoir (Harrison Lake), Madison County: Boats must travel at no-wake speed in all of Willow Creek Arm and Norwegian Arm as buoyed 6 PM-11 AM.

Wood Lake, Lewis & Clark County: Closed to all motorboats

 

Aids to Navigation

Individuals and nonprofit organizations may identify hazards on state waterways by placing a sign or marker at the hazard. Only department approved signs, markers, or buoys may be used to mark a hazard. A white plastic milk jug attached by a cord to the hazard may also be used. The sign or marker must:

  • display the name and telephone number of the individual or nonprofit organization that placed it;
  • be maintained or removed by the individual or nonprofit organization when dictated by changing water conditions or seasonal changes;
  • be placed only to signal a hazard in the waterway; they may not be used to mark swim areas, safe channels, speed limits or water skiing cources;
  • be located on state waterways; they are not allowed on navigable waters with federal jurisdiction.