Laws for Negligent or Reckless Boat Operation

Reckless operation of a boat, waterskis or a similar device is one of the most serious offenses in Tennessee boating law. Violations are punishable by a fine of $2,500 and 6 months in jail. Additionally, the Coast Guard may impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of 1 year. Reckless boat operation is defined as any act which endangers life, limb or property.

Examples of reckless operation may include:

  • Operating a boat in a designated swimming area.
  • Allowing passengers to sit on seatbacks, gunwales, transoms or pedestal seats while travelling faster than idle speed.
  • Excessive speed in crowded areas, dangerous areas or during restricted visibility.
  • Operating an overloaded boat.
  • Towing a skier in a crowded area where a fallen skier is likely to be hit by other boats or towing in areas where the skier is likely to strike an obstacle.
  • Using a personal  watercraft (PWC) to jump the immediate wake of another boat.

Boat Owner Responsibility

Boat owners may be responsible for any injury or damage done by their boat, including damage caused by the boat’s wake. This shall not hold true if the boat is used without the owner’s consent. There may be civil liability charges attached to any damage caused by the wake of a boat.

Boat Speed Limits

In Tennessee it is illegal to:

  • Operate a boat within 300 feet of a commercial boat dock at greater than idle speed regardless of whether or not the area is marked by buoys.
  • Operate at an excessive rate of speed in crowded or dangerous areas or during periods of restricted visibility.
  • Jump another boat’s wake within 100 feet of that boat.

Operation in Restricted Areas

Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency Access areas have the following restrictions:

  • Disorderly conduct or the use of intoxicants or other behavior-modifying substances is prohibited.
  • The use of firearms is prohibited (except during regular hunting season).
  • Target shooting is prohibited at all times.
  • Swimming from or near ramps or in such a manner as to interfere with the launching or removal of boats is prohibited.