Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know

Boating Laws and Responsibilities

The official Iowa boater safety handbook introduces you to laws governing boating and provides general information about safe operation on Iowa waters. 

Iowa's Handbook of
Boating Laws and Responsibilities
[Web Version]

Saved by the Jacket


State law requires life jackets on every watercraft, whether it’s a motorized boat, jet ski, kayak, canoe, or even a paddleboard. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 84 percent of drowning victims who died from a boating accident were not wearing their life jackets. The best way to be “saved by the jacket” is to wear it at all times, no matter your level of swimming or boating expertise.

For more information about safe boating practices visit the National Safe Boating Campaign.

The Boating Education program is committed to providing Iowans with important resources and messages that save lives.

YouTube Channel: ACA | Canoe - Kayak - Raft - SUP - Rescue

Canoeing and Kayaking

Iowa has a variety of rivers, creeks, and lakes offering a number of different types of experiences for the beginner to the expert paddler. Canoeing and Kayaking in Iowa can offer year round enjoyment.

Learn more about the 18,000 miles of navigable streams that  await exploration by curious paddlers from across the state, and how to enjoy them safely.

Special Event Permits

A permit is required for regattas, motorboat or other boat races, marine parades, tournaments, or exhibitions etc. to be held on Iowa state waters. Permits must be received by the event organizer at least 30 days in advance of the event. If the event is being held on federally controlled waters, a permit from the U.S. Coast Guard is required.

2024 Recreational Boating Incidents

Personal Injuries 3
Property Damage 2
Fatalities 1
updated 06/04/2024

Boating Frequently Asked Questions

The operator of a vessel involved in an occurrence is required to file a report in writing whenever an occurrence results in loss of life; loss of consciousness, medical treatment or disability in excess of 24 hours or property damage in excess of $2000. The report must be submitted within 48 hours in death, disappearance, or personal injuries requiring medical treatment by a licensed health care provider, and within five days in all other cases. All reports shall be submitted to the local Conservation Officer, and shall include a full description of the collision, occurrence or other casualty. 

If you have any questions, call the DNR Des Moines Office - (515)725-8200.

*Note: If you are required to fill out a Vessel Occurrence Operator's report form, you must also contact your local Conservation Officer or local Sheriff's Department immediately, to report the vessel occurrence.

Vessel Occurrence Operator's Report Form

Iowa DNR Law Enforcement Bureau,
State Map with Contact Information

Hull Identification Numbers

Have questions regarding Hull Identification numbers?

We have you covered:
Hull Identification Number FAQ

Going Boating in Another State?

If you are going boating out of the state of Iowa, some states have additional requirements for out of state boaters. Please reference the Boating Outside of Iowa document for these requirements.

Engine Cutoff Switch Law - Effective 4/1/2021

  • The law going into effect on April 1 requires boats equipped with engine cut-off switches(ECOS) to use the ECOS on federally navigable waterways.
  • Iowa has 4 Federal Impoundments to include Coralville Reservoir, Rathbun Lake, Lake Red Rock, and Saylorville Lake
  • US Army Corps of Engineer manage the 4 Federal Impoundments found in Iowa
  • Iowa also has the Mississippi and Missouri River on its borders U.S. Coast Guard patrol the Mississippi and Missouri River and have the authority to enforce the federal law
  • Iowa Conservation Officers can educate the public verbally, educate with a written warning referring to the federal code, or refer the violation to a federal law enforcement officer

Over the last three years (2018-2020), Congress has passed two laws requiring, first, that manufacturers install engine cut-off switches on recreational vessels and, second, that recreational vessel operators use those engine cut-off switches.

First Law: More specifically, Section 503 of the LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 created 46 USC 4312 to require a manufacturer, distributor, or dealer that installs propulsion machinery and associated starting controls on a covered recreational vessel (less than 26 feet long and capable of 115 pounds of static thrust) to equip the vessel with an ECOS per compliant with ABYC Standard A-33. This law went into effect on December 4, 2019 one year after the 2018 CGAA was enacted and is referred to as the “installation requirement.”

Second Law: Section 8316 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 amended 46 USC 4312 to require individuals operating those recreational vessels covered by the installation requirement to use ECOS links, except if the main helm is within an enclosed cabin or the vessel does not have and is not required to have an ECOS. This law goes into effect on April 1, 2021. This requirement is referred to as the “use requirement.”

Additional Key Points:

  • The laws that have placed these requirements on recreational vessel manufacturers and recreational vessel operators are found in United States Code (USC), as opposed to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) where these types of requirements are typically found.
  • These new laws will improve safety for all recreational boaters by reducing the potential for propeller injuries to recreational vessel operators, other users of the nation’s waterways, and marine law enforcement officers responsible for responding to runaway boats.
  • It provides a penalty of $100, $250, and $500 for the first, second, and third offenses, respectively.

Currently there are 7 States that have ECOS laws:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Texas