Below are a few of the current, general boating rules for North Carolina. If you are bringing your own boat from another state or from elsewhere in North Carolina, familiarize yourself with them. For more detailed NC boating laws and regulations, see the NC Wildlife & Resources website. For locations of public boat ramps, see our Boat Ramps Page.
Boating Safety Education Requirements
Anyone younger than 26 years old operating a vessel powered by 10 horsepower or greater on public waterways must have successfully completed an approved boating safety education course or otherwise be in compliance. All vessel operators must be able to prove compliance upon request of a law enforcement officer.
Vessel Registration and Titling Requirements
- All motorized vessels, including sailboats longer than 14’ and personal watercraft, must be registered.
- Vessels registered in another state and brought into North Carolina for more than 90 consecutive days, must be registered in North Carolina.
- A vessel title is required for all new or transfer registrations for vessels or sailboats longer than 14’ and personal watercraft.
Blue Light = No Wake
All watercraft must slow to a no-wake speed when passing within 100 feet of a law enforcement vessel displaying a flashing blue light, or within 50 feet in narrow channels. Violators are subject to fines up to $250.
Kids MUST Wear Life Vests
State law requires children younger than 13 to wear an appropriate personal flotation device (life vest) whenever they are on a recreational vessel that is underway. When choosing a personal flotation device (life vest) for a child, always check for a U.S. Coast Guard-approved label. The life vest must be a proper fit, with youth sizes corresponding to weight ranges.
Boat Safe, Boat Sober
Operating a recreational vessel while under the influence of an impairing substance or with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is illegal. Penalties can include fines up to $1,000 and jail. Operators and passengers who drink should use caution. Wind and waves, combined with heat, glare, motor noise and vibrations can create a condition known as boater fatigue, in which the effects of alcohol can be magnified up to three times.
Leave a Float Plan
Document essential information or fill out a form about your excursion and leave it with a reliable person who can be depended upon to notify the U.S. Coast Guard or another rescue organization, should you not return as scheduled. (Do not file float plan with the US Coast Guard.)
Report Boating Accidents
Boating accidents that occur on public waters must be reported to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission 24-hour toll free at 800.662.7137 when any one of the following occur:
- Loss of life, an injury requiring medical treatment or a person is unconscious or left disabled for 24 hours
- Actual physical damage to property (including vessels) is in excess of $2,000
- A person disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury.
VHF Channel 16 is the emergency channel and is to be used only in life threatening emergencies. The US Coast Guard will not rescue you if you run out of gas or your engine stops working. For those circumstances, you must call either:
Seatow Oregon Inlet • 252.473.3465
Towboat U S Oregon Inlet • 252.473.3405
Equipment You Must Have On Your Boat
- Personal flotation devices (life vests) 1 per person
- Child personal flotation device (life vest)
- Throwable cushion or life ring
- Fire extinguisher
- Flares – if you are going outside of the inlets and in to the ocean you must have flares
- VHF Radio – not required, but we highly recommend it
- If you have a large boat, additional equipment is required
Other Navigational Rules To Remember
- Do not anchor and fish in the middle of a channel. This is discourteous and dangerous. Big boats use the channels and they will have to stop for you to get your anchor up. When you see one barreling down on you, you will hope they can stop in time.
- While overtaking, do not whip around another boat and then cut in or slow down so that they have to slow down or take evasive action.
- If a boat is approaching you head on, you pass it just as you would a car. You stay on your right and he stays on his right.