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  /  Outdoors   /  West Virginia Division Of Natural Resources2021 Fishing, Boating And Water Safety Guidelines

West Virginia Division Of Natural Resources2021 Fishing, Boating And Water Safety Guidelines

Boating Education Requirements:

Anglers using boats must obey boating laws. In West Virginia, anyone born on or after December 31, 1986 must successfully complete a NASBLA-approved Boating Education Course before operating a motorboat.

Contact a Natural Resources Police Officer for an available course near you. You can also take the online Boating Education Course available at wvdnr.gov. Click on boating under the Law Enforcement heading.

Personal Floatation Device (PFD):

Most boating fatalities are the result of the boat capsizing or passengers falling overboard. Nearly 80% of those who died in boating accidents were NOT wearing PFD.

If you are fishing from a vessel, West Virginia law requires that you have a PFD (life jacket) that is in good condition, properly sized and readily available for each person on board. Any child under the age of 13, including infants, must wear a PFD while the vessel is underway. Vessels 16 feet and over must have a throwable Type IV PFD ring or cushion on board that can be thrown to a person in the water in addition to the previously stated PFDs. Tygart and Stonewall Jackson lakes have a federal regulation requiring mandatory wearing of PFDs regardless of age on all vessels under 16 feet, including kayaks and paddleboards.

Courtesy on the Boat Ramp:

Boat ramp traffic jams can be prevented if everyone practices common courtesy at the ramp. Be sure you observe these simple courtesies:

  • Prepare your vessel for launching or for the drive home well away from the ramp.
  • Use at least two experienced people to launch and retrieve the vessel (one to drive the towing vehicle and one to operate the vessel).
  • Never block a ramp with an unattended vessel or vehicle.
  • Move the vessel away from the launch lane immediately after removing it from the trailer. Return briefly to pick up the vehicle driver once he or she has parked the vehicle and is back at the ramp.
  • When retrieving, do not pull your vessel into a launch lane until the towing vehicle is at the ramp. The line is formed by vehicles with trailers, not by vessels in the water. Drop off the vehicle driver, and wait offshore and clear of the ramp until he or she arrives with the trailer.

Learn more about boating safety at www.register-ed.com or take an online course at wvdnr.gov.

Safe Boating Rules:

Boating accidents usually result from a collision with another boat or an object in the water such as rocks or pilings. A little boating knowledge, common sense and courtesy could prevent most accidents.

  • Don’t operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Don’t overload the boat.
  • Don’t sit on the edge of the boat.
  • If you must stand up, do so carefully and away from the sides.
  • Drive at a safe speed.
  • Use navigation lights at night.
  • Keep a lookout for other boats and follow the rules of navigation.
  • Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Don’t fish during a thunderstorm.

Every vessel or watercraft must carry the proper safety equipment. A vessel means every description of watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water. Examples of watercraft include kayaks, canoes, inflatable pontoon boats and other vessels.

Check the weather conditions before you leave. Lightning, strong wind and high waves create hazardous conditions. If caught on a lake in a strong storm, put all fishing gear in the bottom of the boat, stay low in the boat and get off the water as soon as possible. In high waves, the best way to keep from capsizing is to steer the boat at a slight angle into the waves.

Alcohol and Drugs:

Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs creates the same risks and carries the same penalties as DUI. Intoxication affects your balance, which is already challenged by being in a boat. It also affects your coordination, vision and thinking ability. Alcohol also causes you to lose body heat faster should you fall into the water, increasing the risk of hypothermia. A blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or above qualifies as legally intoxicated.

Commercial River Traffic:

While boating on the major rivers of West Virginia, always be alert for large commercial vessels. Large vessels always have the right-of-way because of long stopping distances and blind spots around them. Also, turbulent water around the large vessel could capsize a small boat easily.

Stay out of danger zones and restricted areas around locks and dams.

Person in the Water:

Reach-Throw-Row-Go is a method of rescuing a person who is in trouble in the water. If the person is close to you, REACH out with a long object such as an oar or tree limb to pull the person into the boat or onto shore.

If you can’t reach the person, then THROW them a life-saving device. If possible, it should be tied to the end of a line so you can pull the person to you. An inflatable ball or foam cooler can be used if the proper device is not available.

If there is nothing to throw, ROW a boat to the person in trouble. The person should be pulled in over the stern or back, of the boat if possible to prevent the boat from tipping over. If the boat has a motor, it must be shut off before you get to the person in the water.

GO (swim) to the person ONLY as a last resort and only if you have had life-saving training. People who are drowning often panic and injure or drown someone trying to rescue them.

Safety with Fishing Equipment:

Hypothermia is a condition in which your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Without treatment, your life is in danger. Exposure to the cold along with wind, wetness and exhaustion causes hypothermia. A common misconception is that the air or water temperature must be below freezing before you can become hypothermic. Actually, many cases of hypothermia develop in air temperatures between 30 and 50 degrees. And because water takes away body heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature, any water colder than 70 degrees can cause hypothermia.

Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, fumbling hands, slow speech, confusion and exhaustion. To treat hypothermia, get the victim out of the cold, give warm drinks, keep the person awake, remove all wet clothing and get the victim into dry clothes.

Fishing in Cold Weather:

To stay warm, wear several layers of clothing. Air trapped between the layers serves as insulation. A wool hat prevents heat loss from your head. Fishing is difficult with most gloves, but lightweight rubber gloves, gloves without fingertips, and gloves that have a flap to expose your fingers allow greater manual dexterity.

Ice Fishing:

West Virginia doesn’t possess numerous ice fishing opportunities and in some ways, that makes the sport a little riskier. Anglers may be tempted to venture out on a frozen lake or river before checking the thickness of the ice. Ice should be at least four inches thick before it is considered safe. Due to variations in ice thickness on a waterbody, extreme caution should be exercised.


There are several rules you should follow for safe wading.

  • Wade with a fishing buddy.
  • Wear your PFD.
  • Find out whether the bottom is rocky or muddy.
  • Shuffle your feet or probe with a stick along the bottom to avoid holes.
  • Study how swiftly the water is moving.
  • Wear appropriate footwear (considering water temperature and bottom substrate).

Reporting Procedures:

The record of the largest fish of each species legally taken with rod and reel by a licensed angler in West Virginia waters is maintained by the Division of Natural Resources. Certificates of accomplishment are awarded for each record holder.

Anglers landing a potential state record fish should report the catch as soon as possible to the district fisheries biologist in the closest DNR district office. Please follow these guidelines to ensure accuracy of reporting.

  • Name, address and telephone number of angler.
  • Species of fish, where, when and how caught.
  • Total length of fish measured from tip of snout to end of tail. Lay fish on top of ruler on a flat surface. Close the mouth of the fish and squeeze the tailfin lobes together. Do not measure along the curvature of the fish’s body.
  • Fish must be weighed on a scale certified by the West Virginia Division of Labor.
  • Signatures and telephone numbers of two persons who witnessed the length and weight measurements.
  • A DNR fisheries biologist must verify the species, length and weight of the fish.
  • A photograph of the fish is desirable.

If a DNR biologist is not immediately available, wrap the fish in plastic wrap and freeze it. Contact the local DNR biologist as soon as possible.

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