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What Are the Requirements to Legally Drive a Boat in Oklahoma?

Boating season is here, and that means families throughout the Sooner State will soon head to their local lakes for days of fun in the sun. Getting around on the water on a boat is a great way to spend a summer afternoon, but not everyone can legally get behind the wheel of a boat.

Just as everyone isn’t legally allowed to drive a vehicle on Oklahoma’s roads by default, the same is true for boaters. All boaters in the state must meet a few important requirements, and their boats must meet a few requirements, too. In this blog, we’ll discuss those requirements and what to do if you’re involved in a crash with another vessel.

Drivers of Most Boats Must Be At Least 12 Years Old

In Oklahoma, children under the age of 12 can’t operate boats or personal watercraft that have more than 10 horsepower or sailing vessels that are 16 feet or longer in length. This designation rules out most engine-powered boats, including most small fishing boats. For safety purposes, small children shouldn’t drive boats, period, even if they are driving boats that are technically legal for them to operate.

Children between the ages of 12 and 15 can operate boats that fall into the categories above, but they must first complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators-approved boating safety course. If the vessel they’re operating is a personal watercraft, a competent person must be supervising them within 500 yards. If the vessel isn’t a personal watercraft, a competent person at least 18 years of age must be on board the vessel and ready to take over if necessary.

Drivers Must Remain Sober While Operating Watercraft

There’s no getting around the fact that days on the water are often synonymous with drinking alcohol. And while there’s nothing wrong with boat passengers ages 21 and up responsibly enjoying alcohol on boats, it’s illegal for boat operators to partake in the festivities.

Just as Oklahoma has laws against driving under the influence (DUI), it also has laws against boating under the influence (BUI). Vehicle drivers who have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher can be arrested for DUI, and the same standard applies to boaters. In addition, boaters are required to submit to alcohol testing if they’re stopped by law enforcement on the water the same way that drivers are required to submit to testing if they get pulled over.

Drivers Must Follow Right-of-Way Requirements

Although there aren’t clearly defined lane markers on roads in Oklahoma, drivers must abide by right-of-way rules. Oklahoma’s lakes aren’t a free for all, and there are clearly defined rules for what to do when approaching another vessel. The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety defines them as such:

Meeting Head-On

  • Power vs. Power: Neither vessel is the stand-on vessel. Both vessels should keep to the starboard (right).
  • Power vs. Sail: The powerboat is the give-way vessel. The sailboat is the stand-on vessel.

Crossing Situations

  • Power vs. Power: The vessel on the operator’s port (left) side is the give-way vessel. The vessel on the operator’s starboard (right) side is the stand-on vessel.
  • Power vs. Sail: The powerboat is the give-way vessel. The sailboat is the stand-on vessel.


  • Power vs. Power: The vessel that is overtaking another vessel is the give-way vessel. The vessel being overtaken is the stand-on vessel.
  • Power vs. Sail: The vessel that is overtaking another vessel is the give-way vessel. The vessel being overtaken is the stand-on vessel.

Drivers Must Equip Their Boats Properly

Boats must be well-equipped with safety items to be legally operated in Oklahoma. Children 12 years old and younger on boats less than 26 feet in length must wear life jackets when boats are underway, and all boats must carry one life jacket for each passenger. Boats 16 feet or more in length also must have at least one throwable floatation device on board.

All engine-powered boats must have the right type of fire extinguisher on board. Boats less than 26 feet in length without a fixed system require one B-I extinguisher, boats 26 feet to 39 feet in length require either one B-I extinguisher, two B-I extinguishers, or one B-II extinguisher, and boats 40 feet to 65 feet in length require between one B-I extinguisher up to one B-II extinguisher.

Finally, boats must be equipped with navigation lights when they are operated between sunset and sunrise.

Our Oklahoma Boat Accident Lawyers Are Here to Help After an Injury

Too often, boating is viewed solely as a recreational and leisure activity. Boaters often forget about the power of the vessels they’re operating and the dangers of accidents that occur on the water. Watercraft collisions happen frequently, and when they do, occupants can be seriously injured.

At Parrish DeVaughn Injury Lawyers, our legal team knows the intricacies of boat accident claims, and we know how to get innocent victims full compensation for their damages. Contact us today for a free consultation and to find out how we can help your family after a boat accident that wasn’t your fault.