Return to Texas River Guide

Regulation of Water Safety

For assistance with accessibility on any TPWD documents, please contact accessibility@tpwd.state.tx.us

After recognizing the navigation of Texas’s inland and coastal waters to be a public right and duty, the Texas Constitution provides that the Texas Legislature “shall pass all such laws as may be appropriate thereto.” The legislature has declared a policy of promoting the uniformity of laws relating to water safety. A number of such laws are contained in the Water Safety Act, Chapter 31 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code. The Water Safety Act applies to all public water of the state and to all watercraft navigated or moving on the public water. The basic authority for the enactment of boating regulations is reserved to the state; limited local regulations consistent with the Water Safety Act are permitted under Parks and Wildlife Code § 31.092. By special statute the legislature may also grant regulatory powers to a specific authority.


State Regulations

Chapter 31 of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code has subchapters addressing general provisions, identification and numbering of vessels, titles for boats and motors, required equipment, boating regulations, enforcement and penalties, and boat ramps and buoys. Some provisions of note are:

Parks & Wildlife Code§ 31.002. State Policy.

It is the duty of this state to promote recreational water safety for persons and property in and connected with the use of all recreational water facilities in the state, to promote safety in the operation and equipment of facilities, and to promote uniformity of laws relating to water safety.

Parks & Wildlife Code§ 31.022(c).

All canoes, punts, rowboats, sailboats, and rubber rafts when paddled, poled, oared, or windblown are exempt from the numbering provisions of this chapter.

Parks & Wildlife Code§ 31.073(a).

All canoes, punts, rowboats, sailboats, and rubber rafts when paddled, poled, oared, or windblown are exempt from all safety equipment requirements except the following:
(1) one Coast Guard approved lifesaving device for each person aboard; and
(2) the lights prescribed by the commandant of the Coast Guard for class A vessels and required under Section 31.064.

Parks & Wildlife Code§ 31.091. Uniformity of Boating Regulations.

In the interest of uniformity, it is the policy of the State of Texas that the basic authority for the enactment of boating regulations is reserved to the state.

Parks & Wildlife Code § 31.093. Rules of the Road.

The United States Coast Guard Inland Rules apply to all public water of this state to the extent they are applicable.

Parks & Wildlife Code § 31.096. Reckless Operation and Excessive Speed.

No person may operate a vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device on the water of this state in wilful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others or without due caution or circumspection, and at a speed or in a manner that endangers, or is likely to endanger, a person or property.

Parks & Wildlife Code § 31.101. Obstructing Passage.

(a) No person may anchor a boat in the traveled portion of a river or channel so as to prevent, impede, or interfere with the safe passage of any other boat through the same area.
(b) No person may anchor a vessel near a state owned boat ramp so as to prevent, impede, or interfere with the use of the boat ramp.

Parks & Wildlife Code § 31.102. Operating Boats in Restricted Areas.

No person may operate a boat within a water area that has been clearly marked, by buoys or some other distinguishing device, as a bathing, fishing, swimming, or otherwise restricted area by the department or by a political subdivision of the state. This section does not apply to a patrol or rescue craft or in the case of an emergency.

Local Regulations

Parks & Wildlife Code § 31.092. Local Regulations.

(a) The governing body of an incorporated city or town, with respect to public water within its corporate limits and all lakes owned by it, may designate by ordinance certain areas as bathing, fishing, swimming, or otherwise restricted areas and may make rules and regulations relating to the operation and equipment of boats which it deems necessary for the public safety. The rules and regulations shall be consistent with the provisions of this chapter.

(b) The commissioners court of a county, with respect to public water within the territorial limits of the county that is outside of the limits of an incorporated city or town or a political subdivision designated in Subsection (c) of this section and that are not lakes owned by an incorporated city or town, may enter an order on its books designating certain areas as bathing, fishing, swimming, or otherwise restricted areas and may make rules and regulations relating to the operation and equipment of boats which it deems necessary for the public safety. The rules and regulations shall be consistent with the provisions of this chapter.

(c) The governing board of a political subdivision of the state created pursuant to Article XVI, Section 59, of the Texas Constitution, for the purpose of conserving and developing the public water of the state, with respect to public water impounded within lakes and reservoirs owned or operated by the political subdivision, may designate by resolution or other appropriate order certain areas as bathing, fishing, swimming, or otherwise restricted areas and may make rules and regulations relating to the operation and equipment of boats which it deems necessary for the public safety. The rules and regulations shall be consistent with the provisions of this chapter.

(d) A copy of all rules and regulations adopted under this section shall be summarily filed with the department.

(e) No city, town, village, special district, or other political subdivision of the state may impose or collect a fee for the registration or inspection of vessels to be used on public water against the owner or operator of a vessel used on public water. This section does not apply to Chapter 321, Tax Code, nor to any launch fees, docking fees, entry fees, or other recreational fees which may be imposed or collected by any political subdivision of the State of Texas for the use of the facilities afforded by any such district to the public.

The Water Oriented Recreation District of Comal County functions under Chapter 324 of the Texas Local Government Code. Section 324.066(a) provides in part:

(a) The board [of the district] may adopt reasonable rules and ordinances applicable to: ...
(2) littering and litter abatement on the public water in the district, including the possession and disposition of glass containers;
(3) activities that endanger the health and safety of persons or property on public water in the district, subject to the public’s paramount right to navigate inland water ... .


Back to Top
Back to Top