person in boat for Nebraska boating laws blog post on Hauptman O'Brien

Nebraska may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of places to enjoy being on the water. In fact, Nebraska has dozens of lakes and rivers to experience.

Summers in Nebraska are a great time to head to one of our many small beaches for a swim. It’s also when boaters can finally pull their vessels out of storage and cruise the river or throw an onboard BBQ at their local lake.

Boating laws are a little different in every state. To help you prepare for this summer’s festivities, we’ve pulled together the highlights of Nebraska’s boating laws.

Boating Terminology

Before delving into things, it’s important to grasp some of the terminology commonly used in boating law.

Vessel: Any watercraft that is used for transportation on water (excluding seaplanes).

Motorboat: A vessel that is powered by a mechanical device fueled by gas, diesel, or electricity.

Personal Watercraft: Vessels that are less than 16ft in length, use an internal combustion engine powered by a jet pump as their primary source of propulsion, and are operated by a person standing, sitting, or kneeling on the vessel.

Sailboard: A vessel resembling a surfboard that uses a free-sail system with a swivel-mounted mast not secured by guys or stays.

Starboard: Right side

Port: Left side

Bow: Front

Stern: Rear

Leeward: Downwind of a vessel

No Wake Speed: The speed where a vessel doesn’t make a wake (no more than 5mph).

Class 1: Vessels 16 feet in length or shorter

Class 2: Vessels between 16 and 26 feet in length

Class 3: Vessels between 26 and 40 feet in length

Class 4: Vessels 40 feet in length or longer

Required Boating Equipment and Lighting

Depending on your type of vessel, you may be required to carry certain kinds of equipment. Here is a list of each type of equipment and which vessels must carry them:

Fire Extinguisher: Any inboard vessel, inboard/outboard vessel, airboat, or outboard vessel with closed compartments, closed living spaces, or permanent fuel tanks must have a fire extinguisher.

Oars or Paddles: Required by every vessel, excluding personal watercraft, sailboards, and class 3 or 4 motorboats.

Bailing Bucket: All vessels, aside from personal watercraft, sailboards, or similar vessels, must be equipped with a bailing bucket, bilge pump, or sponge.

Muffler: Any craft with an internal combustion engine must have a muffler. Noise may not exceed 96 decibels when measured from 100 feet away.

Whistles/Bells: Class 1, 2, 3, and 4 vessels must have either a whistle or a mechanical sound producing machine. Mechanically powered Class 4 vessels are required to have a bell.

Flame Arrestor: Vessels with inboard motors using gasoline are required to have a carburetor with a flame arrestor that is approved by the Coast Guard.

Ventilation: Gas powered motorboats, except those employing open construction, must be equipped with a ventilation system for bilges and the fuel tank compartment.

Lighting: All vessels being used after sunset and before sunrise must use adequate lighting as specified by Nebraska Boating Regulations.

Acceptable Flotation Devices

In addition to the equipment listed above, every vessel (excluding sailboards) must carry either a Type I, II, III, or V flotation device approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Most vessels, except sailboards, personal watercraft, canoes, and kayaks, must also carry a Coast Guard approved Type IV throwable device, such as a life ring or float cushion.

Types of flotation devices are as follows:

Type I: Offshore life jackets can turn an unconscious victim face up in the water and keep them vertical.

Type II: This is a “near shore” buoyant vest that is also designed to keep victims’ faces out of the water if unconscious.

Type III: Flotation aids keep the user face up but offer less maneuverability than Type II vests. They are typically used for watersports, like wakeboarding or water skiing.

Type IV: These are throwable devices meant to be thrown to someone in the water for them to float on.

Type V: Special use devices are restricted in their uses and come in several varieties, including: board sailing, work vests, etc.

Type III/V: Inflatable jackets can be Type III or V. They turn victims upright faster than Type II devices and are highly visible.


Nebraska Boat Registration FAQs

Knowing how, where, and when to register your vessel can get a little tricky. Below are some commonly asked questions regarding boat registration.

Who can legally operate a boat?

Anyone who is over the age of 14, has successfully completed a boating safety course (if born after Dec. 31, 1985), and possesses a valid certificate from that course. You can learn more about course options, class locations, and how to register at: Nebraska Game Parks.

How do I register my boat?

 You must visit the county treasurer’s office in the county in which you currently reside to obtain your initial registration.

Once I have my registration, where do I put my boat number?

Boat numbers should be place horizontally on the front of the vessel, on both the starboard and port side, so that they may be read left to right.

How do I renew my registration?

 To renew, simply visit your county treasurer’s office or renew online at: Nebraska DMV Services.

My boat doesn’t have a motor. Do I still have to register it?

No. Only vessels powered by mechanical devices need to be registered.

What are the registration fees?

Class 1 – $23, Class 2 – $46, Class 3 – $67.50, Class 4 – $115

What if I sell or buy a boat through a private sale?

If a boat is sold or bought through a private transaction (i.e. not through a dealer), you must notify Game and Parks of the transfer within 15 days and register the vessel in the new owner’s name within 30 days of the first day of operation on Nebraska waters.

In addition to knowing which boating practices are required for your vessel, it’s a good idea to know which boating practices are considered unlawful as well. These practices can be reviewed in the 2016 Nebraska Boating Guide along with more detailed information regarding boating laws in Nebraska.

Remember, safety is key when operating any kind of vehicle, including boats. Boating accidents can be caused by negligence or a failure to adhere to state laws. If you or a loved one is involved in a boating accident, the attorneys at Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop, P.C. may be able to help you seek compensation for injuries and damages. Contact us or call 402-241-5020 to schedule a free consultation and find out what your case could be worth.

by Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop
Last updated on - Originally published on

Posted in: Boating Accidents