Nebraska Boating Laws

Nebraska Boating Laws

Nebraska boating rules and regulations are more than legal obligations that govern how you operate on the waters. These laws are the rules every boater should prioritize to ensure their own safety and that of others. After navigating through Nebraska waterways while adhering to the correct laws for a while, you’ll find that these legal practices become second nature.

This comprehensive guide covers all the Nebraska boating laws you need to know when operating a boat, from licensing requirements and necessary safety equipment to best practices and practices to avoid.

Importance of Complying With Nebraska’s Boating Laws

Understanding and complying with Nebraska boat laws will help you maintain your vessel according to state guidelines. It can help you avoid potential accidents and costly fines and ensure you sail confidently. It also provides peace of mind that you adhere to practices that will keep you, your passengers and your boat safe and secure.

Before buying a boat, educate yourself on the rules, regulations and best practices to follow to make more informed decisions about the type of features your boat should have, the type of equipment necessary and which dock solution will best fit your needs.

Requirements to Drive a Boat in Nebraska

Nebraska laws have particular age restrictions and education requirements for boating. Here are the specific requirements to meet when operating or boarding a boat in this state.

1. Age Restrictions and Boater Education Requirements

To operate a motorboat of any kind in Nebraska, a person must be 14 years of age or older. Additionally, all children under 13 may only board a vessel if they wear a Coast Guard-approved life preserver. The only exception is when they are hunting waterfowl while the boat is anchored.

One of the newer Nebraska boating laws states that all motorboat operators born after December 31, 1985, must complete a boating safety course and have their course certificate present when operating the boat.

2. Boat Registration

If your vessel primarily receives power from a mechanical device, you likely need to register it and receive a vessel number, though there are a few exceptions. Once your boat is registered, you will receive a validation decal and certificate of number, which you must keep on board whenever you use the boat.

3. Title Requirements

You need a title for your boat to receive the registration from your county treasurer. If your boat was made after 1972, it should have a valid Hull Identification Number (HIN), which you may obtain from the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). You may be exempt from titling if your motorboat was manufactured before 1972. Display your 12-character HIN on the starboard or right side of the motor on the transom.

4. License and Placement Requirements

Your certificate of number is a certification that must be available at all times for an officer to inspect when your motorboat is afloat. These certificates are only valid for three years and expire on December 31 of the last year. If your address changes, inform the Game and Parks Commission of your new address within 15 days.

You must also notify them within 15 days if you have transferred part or all of your ownership, and it affects your right to operate the motorboat. The same rule applies if you abandoned your vessel or it was destroyed, allowing them to terminate the certificate of number.

The letters and numbers should be visible for 100 feet using block figures at least 3 inches tall in a color that contrasts with the boat’s color. The front half of the mechanically-powered vessel should also only display registration letters, numbers and validation stickers.

Important Boating Practices to Avoid Doing in Nebraska

Nebraska outlines several specific practices and activities to avoid doing while boating. Here are four of the most important boating practices that go against Nebraska boating regulations:

1. Boating While Intoxicated

Boating Under the Influence

Boating under the influence (BUI) is a serious offense in Nebraska that can result in a penalty fine of up to $1,000, loss of boating privileges for up to six months and up to six months of imprisonment. This may happen if you have a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% or greater.

If your boat is afloat on Nebraska waterways, you must test for alcohol if an officer requests it. If you refuse to submit to a test, you may receive similar penalties to someone with a BUI offense, regardless of your actual blood-alcohol content.


2. Speeding and Reckless Operation

Nebraska laws prohibit boat operators from exceeding speeds of over 5 mph within 30 yards of any vessel, landing pier, fishing pier, harbor, bathing beach, marina or anchorage. Refrain from speeding in congested, regulated or prohibited areas.

Additionally, you should avoid a few reckless operational practices on Nebraska waterways. For instance, you should avoid wake jumping with a motorized vessel if it is only 50 yards away from another vessel. You should also refrain from operating or advising someone to operate a vessel if it is improperly equipped.

3. Overloading the Vessel

Your vessel needs to be in a safe condition at all times. Overloading your boat can make it hazardous, meaning you should return the boat to mooring immediately to correct the situation. When loading your vessel, ensure at least half of your vessel’s total depth is above water. You should also review the manufacturer’s capacity plate to ensure you loaded it appropriately.

4. Operating During Unauthorized Timeframes or Places

Operating personal watercraft (PWC) from sunset to sunrise is illegal, regardless of circumstance. Motorboat operators are also prohibited from operating their vessels between October 15 and January 15 every year in these state wildlife refuges:

  • Platte River
  • Niobrara River
  • North Platte River
  • Lincoln County Refuge
  • Garden County Refuge
  • Boyd-Holt County Refuge
  • Dodge-Saunders County Refuge

Safe Boating Practices to Implement

Safe Boating Practices

To help avoid penalties and easily navigate Nebraska waterways, you can follow some best practices to stay on the right side of the law. Here are six safe boating practices that may help you maintain the condition of your boat and safely navigate the waters.

1. Lighting

Boating laws in Nebraska demand that all vessels have a white light visible for at least 2 miles. You should also have a red light on the port side and a green light on the starboard side, both of which should be visible for at least 1 mile. When anchoring away from an anchorage or docking area, you must display the 360-degree white light.

2. Use Navigation Aids

If you and another vessel are approaching each other nearly head-on, both of you should give a short whistle blast in acknowledgment and swing your bow substantially to the starboard to pass safely. The law prohibits excessive sounding of horns, bells and whistles.

State waterway markings can help you navigate areas more knowledgeably. For instance, controlled areas are marked with an orange and white circle, orange and white diamond shapes indicate danger, and an orange and white diamond shape with a cross signals boats to keep out.

3. Report Boating Accidents

If you witness or see the aftermath of a collision, explosion, capsizing, foundering, fire, flooding or a vessel’s disappearance, you must report the incident. You must do so within 48 hours for boating accidents that involve injury, death or disappearance. You may be able to report these incidents at the nearest Nebraska Game and Parks office.

4. Record People Renting Vessels

If you plan to offer your boat for rent, state laws require you to accurately record the people who rent your vessel. Write down their names and addresses in a book,  or spreadsheet. You should also record the departure date and time, expected time of return and boat identification number, preserving these records for at least six months.

5. Implement Secure Toilet Systems

If your vessel has an installed toilet, make sure it has a Type I, II or III U.S. Coast Guard-certified marine sanitation device (MSD). This requirement aims to reduce waste and pollution. If it has a “Y” value, you must also ensure it is properly secured with a padlock or non-releasable wire tie. Do not dispose of this waste near or into Nebraska waters, and follow proper disposal methods. 

6. Be Mindful of When to Stop and Who Has the Right of Way

Swimmers always have the right of way over any vessel. Additionally, any watercraft without mechanical power and anchored vessels have the right of way over mechanically powered vessels. If you are operating a motorboat and encounter these crafts or swimmers, you must give them a reasonable amount of clearance to avoid disturbing them or endangering their lives or property.

You should also immediately stop when encountering an approaching vessel with flashing red and blue lights, which indicate law enforcement or emergency rescue vessels.

Safety Equipment to Keep Onboard

Particular boat safety equipment that Nebraska law requires you to have onboard at all times include:

  • Life jackets or flotation devices: All vessels except sailboards must carry U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for each person aboard and personal flotation devices (PFDs) to prevent drowning.
  • Oars: Oars may help boaters maneuver the vessel if the engine fails or when operating a vessel without an engine.
  • Bailing bucket: If the boat takes on too much water due to rain, leaks or waves, a bailing bucket can help remove excess water from the boat.
  • Fire extinguisher: Fire extinguishers are essential for boats with fuel tanks or closed compartments if a fire breaks out due to electrical malfunctions or fuel leaks.
  • Whistle or bell: When there is reduced visibility on the waters, whistles or bells help operators alert other boaters of their presence.
  • Muffler: Mufflers help to reduce noise from the boat’s engine exhaust, ultimately reducing noise pollution.
  • Ventilating: Adequate ventilation helps dissipate fuel vapors and maintain a breathable environment.
  • Backfire flame arrestor: This safety device prevents backfires from flammable fuel vapors in the engine compartment.

Nebraska Boating Regulations by Activity

Particular activities require you to stay vigilant for the safety of yourself and others:

  • Personal watercraft: When operating a PWC, you should avoid following other boats too closely and ensure all passengers wear PFDs. You should also respect the rights of shoreline property owners and stay aware of environmental concerns to ensure you operate accordingly.
  • Diving and snorkeling: The law requires spearfishers and divers to display a divers-down flag — a white diagonal stripe over a red background — in a diving area. As a boater, you should stay 150 feet away from areas with these diver-down flags to maintain their safety.
  • Water skiing: Nebraska law prohibits water skiing for half an hour before sunrise and after sunset. Boat operators may also only tow someone on a water ski or aquaplane if an observer over 12 years old is present.

150 Feet From Diving Areas

Dock Laws in Nebraska

You must also follow some rules and regulations regarding docks and similar structures. For example, Nebraska law prohibits people from mooring their boat to someone else’s private dock without their permission. If you plan to install your own dock, you need to secure a permit from your city first.

You may also need to ensure that the dock protrudes less than 6 feet from the shoreline and is at a contour level of 1,906 feet to receive a valid permit. Some areas may only allow seasonal docks, which must be removed at certain times of the year. Inquire about these things with community leaders in advance.

How EZ Dock Can Help Promote Safer Boating Practices in Nebraska

EZ Dock is a premier floating dock company that develops premium quality docks that adhere to Nebraska boating laws. Our experts design our docks to withstand harsh weather and accommodate space requirements, so you maintain your boat’s safety and compliance with the law. If you plan to station your dock in an area that only permits seasonal docks, our docks are easy to remove for the winter, helping you avoid winter damage.

As a plus, we use safe, non-toxic material to build our docks to avoid harming the environment. Made with polyethylene and recycled rubber, our products are less susceptible to rot and splinters in fresh or saltwater environments, making them great low-maintenance options.

Enhance Your Boating Experience With EZ Dock

Abiding by Nebraska boating rules and regulations can help you enjoy the boating experience while avoiding practices that might cause you to receive a fine or endanger others. EZ Dock takes it a step further with docking systems that adhere to Nebraska dock laws. Our experts will work directly with you to understand your unique docking and boating needs. After gaining a full understanding, we’ll design and tailor your dock to suit the shore and your vessel.

Since 1991, we’ve helped people in residential, commercial and government markets. We provide various solutions, including floating docks, boat ports, boat lifts and floating dock walkways. For durable, world-class products that enhance your boating experience, contact us for more information today.

Enhance Your Boating Experience