Is a Boat Considered a Vehicle? | LakeWizard

A “vehicle” is one of the most general terms in the English language. And really, what is a vehicle? Is a boat a vehicle?

You may have heard people using the terms vehicle, motor vehicle, automobile, and conveyance for the same set of transportation means. But are these terms really the same? Or is there a difference between them?

When the term 'vehicle' is used, does it also refer to a boat? Yes! A boat is a vehicle. No matter if it's a power-driven boat, a sailing boat, a fishing vessel, or a seaplane, a boat is still a vehicle.

The doubt about a boat being considered a vehicle may seem to be a trivial matter for a common person, but it has prime importance for boaters. Do you know why? It's because of legislation that applies to a boat if it is considered a vehicle.

Some states don't consider a dinghy, a sailboat, or a bass boat as a vehicle. While other states consider all boats as vehicles. To know why this distinction arises among different kinds of boats, read the complete information below.

Table of contents


What is a vehicle?

A piece of mechanized equipment that is used to carry and transport goods or people is called a vehicle. If this vehicle operates with the help of an engine or a motor, it becomes a motor vehicle.

There are many types of vehicles depending upon the medium they use for moving. These may be land vehicles which are the means of transporting people or things from one place to another. These usually move on wheels and use the force of engines to drag against the ground. For example, cars, buses, wagons, and rail vehicles.

Air vehicles or aircraft are able to fly and get their support from the air. These vehicles use the power of engines to fly against air resistance. For example, helicopters, aeroplanes, gliders, etc.

What defines something like a vehicle?

For any piece of equipment to be called a vehicle, there are two requirements that must be fulfilled:

  1. It must be able to propel, either on its own, by using the force of an engine or a mechanical force of a person.
  2. It must be used as a means of conveyance. In other words, a vehicle must be able to transport passengers or goods from one place to another.

Difference between a vehicle and a vessel

Now you know that a vehicle is any machine that can transport people and is able to propel forward and backward. But how does it differ from a vessel?

The vehicle is a large term, vessel, on the other hand, is a subcategory of vehicles. The vessel is a nautical term that is specifically used for waterborne vehicles or watercraft. However, vehicles also include other means of conveyance that operate on land, rails, or in the air.

We can say that every vessel is a vehicle but not every vehicle is a vessel.

Is a boat considered a vehicle?

Yes! A boat is considered a vehicle. This is because a boat fulfills both conditions for being a vehicle. It is able to propel and can be used as a means of conveyance.

Just like how some people don't agree on railcars and trains being vehicles, there is a group of people who don't agree on calling a simple boat a vehicle. They only consider the motor-driven boats and not the sailboats or dinghies as vehicles. This is the same for many states in which the rules of vehicles do not apply to sailboats, rowboats, and dinghies.

Is a boat a vessel?

A vessel is any means of transportation that can float on water and can steer on its own or by using an external force.

Just like any other watercraft, a boat is also called a vessel. In addition to boats, ships and barges are also considered vessels.

Legislation on boats

According to the law of the United States, any legislation which applies to other vehicles shall be held true for the boats as well. Except for a few states which don't consider small boats, such as sailboats and rowboats the vehicles, the laws for vehicles are valid for all kinds of boats in all other states of America. For instance, the legislation on vehicles doesn't apply to small boats other than motorboats in California, Delaware, Florida, and a few other states.


Before operating your boat in public waters, it is important to confirm whether the rules of vehicles are valid for the boat you own or not. If they hold true in your state, owning a license for your boat is compulsory. You must also acquire a title for your boat from the government. This title is backed up by legal documents and is important to prove your ownership. It also helps in case your boat is stolen. The government will be able to track your boat with the help of the title.


Powered boats in all states and non-powered boats in certain states need to be registered with the government of the state. If the boat has been registered, you'll be able to operate your boat in common waters for a specific period of time. For registration, the age limit must be minimum as per state law. In case you own a large yacht or a large recreational boat, federal registration of the boat with the U.S. Coast Guard is mandatory.

Speed restriction

Like any other vehicle, a boat must be operated at the recommended speed when in a speed-restricted zone. Your speed should not cause a hazard for other boats in the same water. If any accident happens, the person is obliged to report it to the authorities immediately.


Boating Under Influence (BUI) has the same penalty as driving under influence. If a vessel operator is suspected of operating the vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs, he must undergo a physical confirmation test. If the test confirms the person to be positive for drugs or alcohol, he'll be punished for violating the state law.

Boating in another state

In order to operate a boat in any other state of the US, one will need the Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) stamp for his vessel. In case your state laws do not apply to your boat, you must ensure that you abide by the laws of boating in the other state. Before sailing your boat in public waters of such a state, you need to register your vessel first.