New Mexico Boating -
Frequently Asked Questions

When and how do I report a New Mexico Boating Accident?

Boating accident formal written reports are required by the owner/operator of any vessel involved within 48 hours by law by both state and federal agencies for statistics and liability. The law also requires that any boat accident be immediately reported to law enforcement.

In New Mexico, the boat accident must be reported if the property damage to any vessel(s), or property loss exceeds $100,if there is an injury that requires EMS services (even if only to be checked, those are services recognized beyond first aid), if that injury requires hospitalization, if the accident resulted in the disappearance of a person(s) or there is death of a person.

Consider any accident involving substantial liability, death, or injury best investigated by an available state parks boating officer. No evidence shall be removed from the scene including the vessels involved and any safety equipment including life jackets. Tampering with the scene of an accident is illegal. The officer will file their report separate from the Boat Accident Reports required by law by each operator.

It is best not to get involved in discussions of liability but instead to focus and getting names and addresses of any witnesses and any statements.

Each boat operator or legal representative must complete a boat accident report in a form required.

Download and complete this form, sign and file with:

New Mexico State Parks Boating Safety, 1220 St. Francis Drive, Santa Fe, NM 87505.

New Mexico form follows federal law regarding totality of the information required to be reported.

No evidence shall be removed from the scene including the vessels involved and any safety equipment including life jackets. Tampering with the scene of an accident is illegal.

How do I report boating violations that I spot on the water?
The best assistance you may give us is a good visual description.

Get the vessel color, type and registration number.

Try to get a good description of the operator and the number of passengers on board.

Report the information directly to a park employee to relay or directly to a Ranger or call

VHF channel 16 if on a larger lake. If you have a cell phone call the park number found

on your park fees brochure or on the boat ramp signs .

If it's an emergency or a boat accident, dial 911 or call the sheriff or state police.

Don't forget to leave your name, campsite number, address, and phone number in

case we need further assistance.

Do I have to make a court appearance if I violate a Boat Act Law or the Regulations?
Yes. The magistrate judge who has jurisdiction over the county in which your violation

occurred will hear the case. This is usually not a fine that can be paid in the mail.

How could I be cited by a State Parks Marine Officer on a lake operated by the federal government?
TheNew Mexico Boat Act has a provision that allows for not only the Marine Enforcement Officers

but other designated Division employees, every sheriff in their respective county, and every member of the

State Police to enforcethe Boat Act and the regulations. They also have the authority to stop and board

any vessel subject to the Boat Act.

I wasn't driving the boat, but I got a citation. Why?
The law and the regulations in many instances holds operator and/or owner responsible for

many violations within the Boat Act.

It is similar to motor vehicle law in that you may lend out your car, but if it's missing equipment

or insurance or registration, you may be cited. This can take place after a boating accident report is

submitted and is why every operator that is involved in a boating accident must file with us, his or her own

boating accident report.  In addition, like the car example, there also could

be a civil liability for any injury or damage caused.  In many cases this may occur even if you did

not give direct permission under a legal theory of implied consent for someone to operate.

The bottom line is to make sure you have a vessel in good order, equipped properly with all mandatory

equipment, with proper documents on board, and entrusted to an operator that will captain the vessel

in a responsible manner.

What are the penalties for Violation of the New Mexico Boat Act or the New Mexico State Boating Regulations

made pursuant to the act?
You may be held guilty of a petty misdemeanor by the county magistrate judge. This is punished

by the judge who shall sentence the person to be imprisoned in the county jail for a definite term not to

exceed six months or to the payment of a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500) or to both.

Such imprisonment and fine is at the discretion of the judge. 

The court may also impose court costs.  (31-19-1 NMSA 1978)

The judge may also elect to deferr or suspend the sentence and place the defendant on probation.

If violation of excise tax for vessel titling is found, 50 percent of the tax due may be imposed as a penalty.

What are no-excuse violations?
These are violations where officers have a responsibility to issue a citation mandating a court appearance.

These include insufficient numbers and sizes of PFDs on board your vessel, not wearing a PFD when

required, no fire extinguisher on board, bow riding, riding on seatbacks, the sides of the vessel or transom

while underway, overloading, expired registration or no registration, and negligent operations.

I am wondering about rules for the number of people that can be pulled behind a three seater PWC?


In an example if I have 2 persons (3 seater PWC) in the water, can I have the spotter on board  in

addition to myself as the operator and 2-3 people in the water on a pull along toy?

No, only one person can be towed on the pull along toy. 

18 NMAC 17.2  (13.2.2)  No person shall pull a water skier (interpreted as any towing sport) with

a personal watercraft unless:

The PWC has a manufacturer recommend seating for at least three people; there is a vacant

seat on the pulling vessel for the skier and the PWC has an observer on board in addition

to the operator. 


The issue is one of safety in case of the towable device or ski failure. 

you never want to be left without an option for taking the person out of the water particularly if the

wait time could be substantial or if the person in the water is in a channel that has high activity from other vessels.

How do I know the areas safe to boat in?

The areas with defined channels are generally marked with Green and White Buoys or Red and White

Striped Buoys.  You can find out which is which on this site.  Information on the Controlled Areas or

Hazard or Danger Zones are listed in our Boating Book . 

In all cases you should know where you are on a lake and have a good navigation map of the lake. 

If you are operating at night you should use all of your senses and available equipment such as GPS,

map, lights, and above all reduce your speed to at least 10-15 mph for giving

greater reaction time.

What are the speeds for wind warning lights and red pennants for wind and storms at the lakes?

Weather is of the biggest concern to small vessels. Many a trip in New Mexico have come to a bad end for not

watching the weather.  It is advisable that boaters before leaving for a lake get the hour by hour wind forecasts for the

area they are going to boat in. These are on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration web pages.

A sample page is below.

Hourly Weather Forecast for 33.14N 107.25W (Elev. 4343 ft)

Wind warning lights have been installed at a number of lakes. They are good indicators of notice to small

craft that it is time to consider getting off the lake once they start flashing.   The alternative to wind lights or

in addition to are pennants. 

  • At 18 knots, (21.74 MPH), one white light on the podium will flash (about equal to small craft advisory)
  • At about 22 knots, (25.31 MPH), the two white lights on the podium will flash  (moving to gale warning)
  • At about 47 knots, (55 MPH), the two white lights will flash so fast, it would seems the flash is one continuous beam of light

(above gale warning...all off the lake)

At some lakes, the wind warning lights have been changed or are no longer working and red pennants

are flown.

For red pennants small craft advisory requires one pennant and a gale warning requires two pennants


red pennant          red pennant

red pennant

Small Craft Advisory

Vessels under 16' should

get off the water. Winds

expected shortly or

currently above

18-19 mph

Gale Warning.

Winds 39-54 mph.



Can I install my own private dock on a New Mexico Lake?         

New Mexico has a law on private docks on most lakes. Check this link for information.

If the link is broken the statutes are found in:




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