Vermont Use of Public Waters Rules

Vermont’s public waters are held in public trust for the benefit of all Vermonters and visitors, and public recreational uses are protected. Public waters can be used for a variety of recreational activities, including access to wilderness and solitude, wildlife watching, winter recreation, fishing, non-motorized boating, motorized boating (high speed and low speed), water skiing, personal watercraft operation, and even seaplane use. Vermont’s public waters also provide habitat for aquatic biota, drinking and irrigation water, and other designated uses as defined in Vermont’s Water Quality Standards.

 wildlife habitat, stormwater storage, groundwater replenishment, drinking water, recreation and tourism

The State of Vermont regulates the use of public waters with the intent to allow all Vermonters and visitors to use these shared resources in a reasonable manner. However, some public water uses have the potential to conflict with other uses, especially on waterbodies where space is limited. The Use of Public Waters (UPW) rules were developed to avoid and resolve conflicts and to protect normal or designated uses on all lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. The UPW rules were established with consideration of the interests of current and future generations of lake users and to ensure that natural resource values of public waters are fully protected.

The Vermont Use of Public Waters Rules were adopted on October 5, 1994 and were originally administered by the former Vermont Water Resources Board and then the Water Resources Panel under 10 V.S.A. §1424. The rulemaking authority of the Water Resources Panel was transferred to the Agency of Natural Resources in 2012 under Act 138. The rules of the Panel are now deemed to be the rules of the Agency and will remain in effect unless amended by the Agency. Members of the public can petition the State to adopt rules regulating the use of particular public waters; see below and the UPW rules for more details on the petition process.

The Use of Public Waters (UPW) rules may restrict the type of watercraft that may be operated on certain waterbodies (like motorized boats or personal watercraft) and set speed limits for motorized watercraft. There are some UPW rules that apply to all public lakes and ponds. Additional rules have been established for specific waterbodies through the petition and subsequent rulemaking process. The complete set of the Use of Public Water Rules is available here: https://dec.vermont.gov/sites/dec/files/documents/WSMD_Use_of_Public_Waters_Rules.pdf

Appendices attached to these Rules are rules adopted by the Water Resources Panel pursuant to the authority of 10 V.S.A. §1424. 

Universal UPW Rules (applies to all public lakes and ponds)

The following Use of Public Water Rules apply to all public lakes and ponds in Vermont (See Section 3 10 V.S.A. § 1424 for entire list and exceptions):

  • Vessels are not to exceed a speed of 5 mph on waterbodies less than 75 acres in size or within the “Shoreline Safety Zone,” defined as the portion of the surface area of public waters within 200 feet of the shoreline for waterbodies greater than 75 acres in size[1].
  • High speed boating (speeds greater than 5 mph) requires that a waterbody have a surface area greater than 75 acres as well as the presence of 30 contiguous acres outside of the shoreline safety zone[2].
  • The use of personal watercraft is prohibited on lakes, ponds, and reservoirs:
  1. that have a surface area less than 300 acres, or
  2. that as of May 1, 1995, had a maximum speed limit of five m.p.h. or less, or
  3. on which the use of internal combustion motors to power vessels is prohibited.
  • Use of internal combustion motors to power vessels on lakes, ponds, and reservoirs is prohibited where the use of such motors was not a normal use prior to January 1, 1993.
  • Protection of loon nesting sites: Between May 1 and July 31 all persons and vessels are prohibited from public waters within 300 feet of any loon nesting site that the Secretary or his/her authorized representative has identified by signs and buoys or other clear on-site markings.
  • Where necessary to prevent, control, or contain the spread of aquatic nuisance infestations, the Secretary or his/her authorized representative may identify by signs, buoys, or other means, areas of public waters as temporarily closed to all persons, to all vessels, or both in order to prevent, control, or contain the spread of aquatic nuisance infestations.
  • Vessels powered by motor shall, in addition to the requirements of 23 V.S.A. § 3311(a) pertaining to careless and negligent operation, not be operated in such a manner that either the hull of the vessel or its underwater exhaust outlet completely leaves the water as a result of crossing or jumping the wake of any vessel, including its own wake, or for any other reason.

Enforcement of the UPW Rules

The Use of Public Waters rules are enforced by The Vermont State Police, Marine Division. Issues or concerns relating to violations of these rules should be reported to the Vermont police.  You may also contact the local game warden, as they partner with the police on these issues. Game wardens and police suggest documenting and reporting suspected violations of the UPW rules with video and photos, registration numbers of boats, a description of the activity in conflict with the UPW rules, and the date and time.

The Rulemaking Process: Submitting a Petition

If a lake association or a municipality proposes to adopt a Use of Public Water rule for a public waterbody, they may petition the State to create a recreation-related rule to address a specific recreation-related conflict. The UPW rules provide guidance for the submission and review of petitions filed pursuant to 10 V.S.A. §1424. The rule-making process includes a review of public comments and the petition, a review of existing recreational uses, existing environmental conditions, and the use conflicts in place. There is also a public engagement process that includes public meetings to engage stakeholders. The rulemaking process is used to determine whether regulations are required to resolve conflicting uses. 

Petitions seeking the adoption of rules regulating the use of  public waters should be filed pursuant to 10 V.S.A. § 1424. See section 2 and 3.7 of the UPW rules for more details. Additionally, information about how petitions should be organized is described in the Vermont Natural Resources Board Rules of Procedure. Additional information is available on the Lakes and Ponds Rulemaking webpage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do I know if I can use a jet ski (referred to as "personal watercraft in the UPW rules) or other motorized vessels on a particular waterbody?

A. Rules concerning watercraft restrictions for specific waterbodies are listed in Appendix A of the Use of Public Waters Rules (10 V.S.A. § 1424) and in the Table of Rules for waterbodies

Q. What is the speed limit for boating on lakes?

A. On lakes and ponds that allow for the use of motorized boats, vessels are not to exceed a speed of 5mph within the “Shoreline Safety Zone,” defined as the portion of the surface area of public waters within 200 feet of the shoreline. A "no-wake speed" is also required within 200 feet of marked swim areas and other vessels, including canoes and kayaks.

Q. Do the Use of Public Waters Rules apply to other motorized watercraft that aren't traditional boats and personal watercraft  (jet skis), like motorized kayaks or "jet kayaks"?

A.  A motorized kayak is not a personal watercraft as the term is used in the UPW rules, so they are not regulated under the specific rules for "personal watercraft." The definition of "personal watercraft" specifically applies to small jet-propelled watercraft, like Jet Skis. However, motorized kayaks may have internal combustion motors and may be able to travel faster than 5mph. Accordingly, the use of motorized kaykas with those capabilities may be restricted from certain lakes and ponds that have restrictions on the use of internal combustion motors or with 5mph speed limits as identified under lake specific UPW rules. Additionally, pursuant to Title 23 a person shall not operate a motorboat on waters of the state unless the motorboat is registered, and a motorboat is defined as “any vessel equipped with machinery capable of propelling the vessel, whether or not such machinery is the principal source of propulsion.”  23 V.S.A. 3302(6).  A “vessel” means every description of watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water or a racing shell or rowing scull occupied exclusively by persons over 12 years of age, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.  23 V.S.A. 3302(17).  Per these definitions, a jet kayak or motorized kayak should be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

Q. Can I install a mooring?
A. Buoys (commonly used for boat moorings) are regulated under Lake Encroachment. Provided the navigation is not impeded, buoys are exempt and do not require a Lake Encroachment Permit.

Q. Can I install a swim raft?
A. Rafts are regulated under Lake Encroachment.  Provided that navigation is not impeded, rafts are exempt and do not require a Lake Encroachment Permit.

Q. Can I install a dock?
A. Docks are regulated under Lake Encroachment.  Noncommercial docks that do not impede navigation and meet the following criteria are exempt and do not require a Lake Encroachment Permit:
- the dock is floating or mounted on posts (no concrete, bulkhead, sheetpiling, or other solid fill (rock/soil) types of materials area used)
- the total length of the dock does not exceed 50 feet
- the total area of the dock does not exceed 500 square feet

Q. If I see someone violating the Use of Public Waters rules on a given waterbody, what should I do?
A. Contact the Vermont State Police Marine Division or the regional Vermont Fish and Wildlife Game Warden. For an effective investigation, it is helpful to have photos or video, location information, and a description of the potential violation as part of your report.

Helpful Links
 

Use of Public Waters Rules

Vermont Boating Handbook

Vermont Fish and Wildlife Public Access Areas

Lakes and Ponds Rulemaking

Table of Rules for Waterbodies

Motor Boat Statutes

Lake and Pond Depth Charts

Vermont Boater Safety Education Course

Vermont Dam Safety Program

Best Management Practices for Human-Beaver Conflicts

YouTube Video presentation about Vermont Use of Public Waters (~6 minutes)


[1] Curtis Pond is 72 acres in size but use of a motorized vessel at a speed of greater than 5 mph is permitted south of the narrows.

[2] Several exceptions were made to this rule allowing use of motorized vessels, if such use  was found to be a normal use prior to January 1, 1993, despite the absence of 30 contiguous acres outside the shoreline safety zone. These lakes include Curtis Pond, Great Hosmer Pond, Greenwood Lake, Metcalf Pond, North Hartland, and Valley Lake.

 

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