Boating in West Virginia – West Virginia Division of Natural Resources – West Virginia Division of Natural Resources

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There are over 2, 000 miles of navigable, fishable streams in West Virginia that comprises over 19, 000 surface acres of water. Additionally, there are 21 lakes over 100 acres in size that encompass 20, 118 acres of fishable and boatable waters. There are 41 small impoundments covering 1, 068 miles and 30 ponds covering 204 acres.  

Most of these waters are also available for public boating. Boating is a fun, relaxing outdoor activity that will can be enjoyed with family and friends in a variety of ways. From kayaking and canoeing to motorized water sports, a day of sailing creates lasting fun among participants.  

West Virginia Water Trails

West Virginia offers a series of water trails around the state. A water trail is a route on a stream, river or lake that provides boaters along with a recreational, scenic, historical or educational opportunity.  

The West Virginia Recreational Trail Authority and the Western Virginia Department of Transportation are responsible for designating water trails in West Virginia. Currently, there are 11 approved water trails:

  • Cacapon River Water Trail
  • Walhonde Water Trail (Coal River System)
  • Elk River Water Trail
  • Greenbrier River Drinking water Trail
  • Guyandotte River Water Trail
  • Mill Creek Water Trail
  • Ohio River Water Trail
  • Summersville Lake Drinking water Trail
  • Upper Cheat River Water Trail
  • Upper Mon River Water Trail
  • West Fork Water Path

Boating Safety Practices

Boating Education Requirement

Anyone using a boat must obey boating laws. In West Virginia, anyone born on or after December 31, 1986, must successfully complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)-approved Boater Education Course before operating a motorboat. Contact the WVDNR Law Enforcement Section or even view the available boater education course list . Participants can also take the online Sailing Education Course.    

Personal Flotation Devices (PFD)

Most boating fatalities are usually the result of the boat capsizing or passenger falling overboard. Nearly 80% of those who died within boating accidents were not wearing PFD.  

If you are on the water in a vessel, West Virginia law requires that you have a PFD (life jacket) that is in good condition, properly sized and readily obtainable for each person on board. Any child under the particular age of 13, including infants, must wear a PFD while the vessel is underway. Vessels 16 feet and over must have the throwable Type IV PFD ring or cushion upon board that can be thrown to a person in the water in addition to the previously noted PFDs.

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 particular vessel (one to drive the towing vehicle plus one to operate the vessel).  
  • Never block a ramp with an unattended vessel or vehicle.  
  • Move the vessel aside 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 street until the towing vehicle is at the ramp. The line is formed by vehicles with trailers, not by vessels in the drinking water. Drop off the vehicle car owner, and wait offshore and clear of the ramp until he or she arrives with the trailer.  

Learn more about boating safety at or take an online course .

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 associated with the boat.  
  • If you must stand up, do so carefully away from the sides.
  • Drive in a safe speed.  
  • Use navigation lights at night.  
  • Keep a lookout for other boats plus 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 ship means every description associated with watercraft, other than seaplane on the water, used or even capable of being used because a means of transportation on water.
  • Check the weather conditions before you leave. Lightning, strong wind and high waves create hazardous conditions. In case caught on a lake within a strong storm, put all fishing gear in the bottom of the particular boat, stay low within 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.

View the current West Virginia Boating Guidelines and Laws

Alcohol and Drugs

Operating the boat under the impact of alcohol or medicines creates the same risks and carries the same penalties as DUI. Intoxication affects your balance, which will be already challenged by being in a boat. It furthermore affects your coordination, vision and thinking ability. Alcoholic beverages also causes you in order 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.  


While boating upon the major rivers of West  Virginia, always become 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 boat could capsize a small boat easily. Stay out of danger zones and restricted areas around locks and dams.

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