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The insider’s guide to boating on Lake Wisconsin for visitors and those new to boating

Hey there, fellow boating enthusiasts! Before you dive into the exciting world of Lake Wisconsin boating, it’s essential you know the ropes when it comes to Wisconsin’s boating laws and regulations, so you and anyone you’re boating with can have a fun and safe experience on our waters. Don’t worry, whether you’re a visitor on vacation or a local trying something new, we’ve got you covered. Let’s go through the key points you need to be aware of so you can ‘sail’ smoothly and safely.

Navigating Wisconsin boating laws and regulations, including who must have a Wisconsin boat license

It may not be ‘playing with fire’, but doing any kind of water-based activity comes with dangers. Thankfully, boating is a very safe past-time if you follow some basic safety precautions and rules. Here’s what you need to know about Wisconsin’s boating rules.

Do you need a Wisconsin boat license?

First things first: do you need a Wisconsin boat license? The answer is ‘sort of’. Wisconsin doesn’t have an actual license system, but certain people operating certain boats do require a Boating Safety Certification.

If you were born on or after January 1st, 1989, and you plan to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft (PWC), you’ll need to complete a boating safety course and obtain a Boating Safety Education Certificate. If that sounds like a pain, don’t worry. While you can take the course in person, you can also take it online at a time that suits you. And once you’ve got your certificate, you’re good to go for life!

Keep in mind you’ll need this certificate if you’re going to operate a motorized boat or PWC on Wisconsin waters, including Lake Wisconsin, even if you normally live outside Wisconsin, unless you have an NASBLA-compliant boating education card or a Canadian Pleasure Craft Operator Card.

Wisconsin boating safety regulations

Now that we’ve got the licensing part sorted let’s talk about boating safety regulations. Safety should always be your top priority when out on the water, so here are a few key rules to follow:

  1. Life jackets — Wisconsin law requires you to have one properly-fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (also known as a personal flotation device or PFD) for each person on board your boat. (If you’re renting one of our jet skis, we provide the lifejacket so there’s no need to worry!) Also, if you’re plannning on taking kids out on the water, all children under the age of 13 must wear their life jackets at all times while on a boat, unless they’re below deck or in an enclosed cabin.
  2. Navigation rules — Just like driving a car, there are rules of the ‘road’ when it comes to boating. Make sure you’re familiar with the basic navigation rules, such as maintaining a safe speed, keeping a proper lookout, and giving way to boats that have right-of-way. And again, if you’re hiring one of our boats, we’ll run you through these rules and other safety tips when you collect your boat. However, for a full guide to boating safety and laws in Wisconsin, check out The Handbook of Wisconsin Boating Laws and Responsibilities.
  3. Don’t drink alcohol or use drugs — It’s illegal under Wisconsin law to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs when operating a boat, just as it is when driving a car.

Wisconsin jet ski license requirements

Now, speaking of jet skis, what licensing rules apply to those speedy watercraft? If you’re planning to zip around on a jet ski, you’ll need to obtain a Wisconsin jet ski license. The requirements are the same as for a boat license: complete a boating safety course and obtain a Boating Safety Education Certificate if you were born on or after January 1st, 1989.

Remember, safety always comes first, so make sure you’re well-equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for a fun and secure jet ski adventure on Lake Wisconsin.

Boating age requirements

In addition to the above rules, there are also age-based restrictions when it comes to operating a boat:

  • Boaters under the age of 10 cannot operate a boat under any circumstances.
  • Boaters aged 10 to less than 12 years old must have an adult on board who is at least 18 years old
  • Boaters aged 12 to less than 16 years old must have an adult on board who is at least 18 years old or they must carry onboard a valid Boating Safety Certificate approved by the state
  • Boaters over 16 years old, born on or after January 1, 1989 must carry onboard a valid Boating Safety Certificate approved by the state

Personal watercraft (PWC) age requirements

The rules are, however, slightly different when it comes to PWCs:

  • Children under the age of 12 cannot operate a PWC under any circumstances
  • Children aged 12 to less than 16 years old must carry onboard a valid Boating Safety Certificate approved by the state
  • Children and adults over 16 years old, born on or after January 1, 1989 must carry onboard a valid Boating Safety Certificate approved by the state

a boat parked next to a body of water

By understanding and complying with Wisconsin’s boating laws and regulations, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for yourself, anyone you’re going to bring on your boat with you, and others on the water. So grab your life jackets, get your Wisconsin boat license or jet ski license, and set sail on an unforgettable Lake Wisconsin adventure!

Finding the perfect vessel for your Lake Wisconsin excursion

So, you’ve got your boating license and are ready to set sail on Lake Wisconsin, but you’re not quite sure which type of boat best suits your adventure? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a rundown of your options.

Pontoon boats

When it comes to cruising around the lake with family or friends, pontoon boats are a top choice. These spacious, stable vessels are perfect for leisurely exploration and soaking up the sun. With plenty of room for a cooler, snacks, and even a barbecue, pontoons are great for those laid-back afternoons on the water. And better yet, our pontoon boats come complete with a Bluetooth sound system, so you can rock out to your favorite tunes, or create the perfect relaxing ambiance. Or if you prefer, pontoon boats are also a fantastic choice if you’re heading out onto the water to fish.

Fishing boats

If angling is your passion, however, you may prefer a dedicated fishing boat to make the most of your Lake Wisconsin fishing trip. These boats are designed with fishing enthusiasts in mind, featuring ample storage for gear, a trolling motor, and convenient access to the water. So, grab your fishing buddies and set out for a day of reeling in walleye, bass, or muskies.


For adrenaline junkies, speedboats are one of the go-to choices. Whether you’re looking to zip across the lake at high speeds or engage in thrilling water sports like wakeboarding or waterskiing, these powerful vessels will get your heart racing.

Jet skis

a man standing next to a body of water

Craving a solo adventure or something a bit more nimble? Jet skis are an absolute blast! Maneuverable and speedy, they’re perfect for exploring Lake Wisconsin’s nooks and crannies or just having some fun in the sun. And they’re another option for wakeboarding and waterskiing. Our jet skis are all either new or really well maintained, we supply life jackets to help keep you safe while you’re out on the water, and if you arrive 20 minutes early, we’ll give you a run-down on how to use our skis and what to be mindful of on Lake Wisconsin specifically.


a dog sitting on a boat in the water

If you’re after a more serene experience on the water, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) might be right up your alley. These versatile boards provide a tranquil way to glide around the lake, all while enjoying a full-body workout. Plus, they’re beginner-friendly! If you’re keen to experience the wonders of this unique activity, when you hire a paddleboard through Lake Wisconsin Watersports, we’ll help you select a board that’s perfect for your size, weight, and preferences.


a group of people rowing a boat in a body of water

Kayaking is another fantastic way to explore Lake Wisconsin at a leisurely pace. These lightweight vessels are great for navigating the lake’s inlets, coves, and tributaries. With both single and tandem kayak options available, it’s a perfect activity for solo adventurers or couples looking for a peaceful day on the water. When you hire a kayak through Lake Wisconsin Watersports, you can hire one for as little as an hour or as much as six days.

Luxury Boats

Finally, if you’re in the mood to indulge and impress, consider renting a luxury boat for your Lake Wisconsin excursion. These high-end vessels offer the ultimate in comfort, style, and amenities, making them ideal for celebrating special occasions or entertaining guests.

Explore Lake Wisconsin with a top-rated rental boat

Ready to ‘set sail’ and explore the beautiful Lake Wisconsin? You’re in luck! There are some fantastic boat rental options to choose from, whether you’re looking for a relaxing pontoon boat cruise or an adrenaline-pumping jet ski ride. Let’s take a look at where you can rent boats on Lake Wisconsin and the price ranges for different types of boat rentals.


Burhop’s Lakeside Lodge

For a picturesque boating experience for a smaller group, and in situations when you don’t mind hiring an older vessel, Burhop’s Lakeside Lodge offers two pontoon boat rental options:

  • 7-passenger Pontoon Boat Rental: $200 for a 4-hour rental or $340 for a 9-hour rental
  • 11-passenger Pontoon Boat Rental: $250 for a 4-hour rental or $430 for a 9-hour rental

Lake Wisconsin Watersports

Lake Wisconsin Watersports, on the other hand, is the one-stop-shop for all your boat rental needs. We offer a variety of options, including larger (and newer) pontoon boats with built-in shelter from the sun, jet skis, paddleboards, and kayaks. Here’s a rundown of rental prices:

  • Pontoon boat (14 passengers): $350 for a half-day (4 hours) rental or $600 for a full-day (8 hours) rental
  • Jet ski: $60 for a 1-hour rental, $120 for a 2-hour rental, $180 for a 3-hour rental, or $350 for a full-day (8 hours) rental
  • Paddleboard: $16 for a 1-hour rental, $28 for a 2-hour rental, $40 for a 3-hour rental, or $64 for a full-day (8 hours) rental
  • Kayak: Prices range from $17 for a 1-hour rental to $170 for a six-day rental, with multiple options in between

When you rent a boat from us, we also include life-jacket rental. And you can buy a range of boating accessories in the event you find yourself without, or you just don’t want to lug them around on a vacation.

a sign above a body of water

Stock up for your Lake Wisconsin boating adventure

Before you head out on the water for your epic Lake Wisconsin adventure, it’s crucial to make sure you’re prepared with all the essentials. You know, the things that will keep your boat running smoothly and your day out on the water as hassle-free as possible. So, let’s talk about where to find boat fuel on Lake Wisconsin and other must-have boating essentials.

Where to buy boat fuel on Lake Wisconsin

First things first: boat fuel. One of the most common questions we get from new and experienced boaters alike is “Where can I find boat fuel on Lake Wisconsin?”. Unfortunately, the answer’s been a bit of a local secret for years, so we wanted to make sure people know they can actually get boat fuel locally — from us!

That’s right — Lake Wisconsin Watersports is the place to go for boat fuel. In fact, it’s the only place in the area that sells it. (Even so, we still sell it at market rates.) So, when you’re planning your boating adventure, be sure to swing by Lake Wisconsin Watersports to fill up your tank, regardless of whether you’ve hired your boat from us, brought your own boat, or hired a boat from somewhere else.

Other boating essentials

Now that we’ve got the fuel situation sorted, let’s discuss other boating essentials you should be aware of:

  • Life jackets — Safety first, friends! Make sure you have enough properly fitting, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets for everyone on board your vessel. If you’re hiring a boat from us, the lease price includes life jacket rental as well.
  • Anchor and rope — You never know when you might need to drop anchor for a bit, so always have a reliable anchor and rope on hand.
  • Dock lines — If you’re operating a larger boat (so, not a kayak or paddle board), you should have dock lines on board in case you decide to dock at a pier. And with several wonderful waterfront restaurants and bars with docks, there’s a good chance you’ll end up doing just that. If you forget yours or anything happens to them, we keep some on hand.
  • Buoys — Buoys are super valuable for safety and can be really convenient if, for example, you need a temporary mooring point. If you find yourself without, we’ve got you covered.
  • First-aid kit — Accidents happen, so be prepared with a well-stocked first-aid kit that includes items like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and pain relievers.
  • Navigation tools — Even if you’re familiar with Lake Wisconsin, having navigation tools like a map, compass, or GPS device can be a real lifesaver.
  • Sun protection — Don’t forget your sunscreen, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing, because nobody wants a sunburn to ruin their day on the water.
  • Snacks and drinks — Keep your energy levels up and stay hydrated with plenty of snacks and drinks on board. Remember to pack a cooler to keep everything fresh!
  • Trash bags — Let’s keep Lake Wisconsin beautiful! Bring along some trash bags to collect any waste during your boating trip and dispose of it properly once you’re back on land.

If you’re missing any of those essentials, check out our handy boating accessories shop.

With your boat fueled up and all your essentials on board, you’ll BE ready to embark on an unforgettable Lake Wisconsin boating adventure.

Setting sail: Lake Wisconsin’s best boat launches and ramps

Before you hit the water, you’re going to need a great place to launch your vessel. No worries, we’ve got you covered. Let’s talk about the top boat launches and ramps on Lake Wisconsin and what facilities are available at these locations.

Lake Wisconsin has plenty of boat launch options, so you’re sure to find one that suits your needs. Here’s a list of some popular boat landings:

Now, let’s chat about accessibility, parking, and nearby amenities. Many of these boat launches offer ample parking, making it easy for you to get in and out quickly. Additionally, some locations have facilities like restrooms, picnic areas, and even playgrounds nearby, making them perfect for a fun-filled day on the water with the whole family. So, it’s worth picking a boat launch with the amenities that will make your day more enjoyable, not just going to the one that’s nearest your home/accommodation or the parts of the lake that you want to explore.

Stay safe and enjoy: boating safety tips for Lake Wisconsin

We all know that safety should always come first when we’re out on the water. So, while we’ve already talked about some general Wisconsin boating laws and regulations, let’s dive into some key boating safety guidelines specifically for Lake Wisconsin. We want to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable experience on this beautiful body of water.

First, let’s chat about boating etiquette and navigation rules for Lake Wisconsin. While most of these rules are similar to those you’d find elsewhere, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the local guidelines. For instance, always respect no-wake zones and keep a safe distance from other vessels, swimmers, and structures. And, of course, always follow the standard ‘rules of the road’ for waterways, like keeping to the right when passing other boats and giving way to vessels on your right when crossing paths. In particular, you’ll need to steer clear of the Merrimac Ferry.

Now, let’s talk about some specific hazards you might encounter on Lake Wisconsin. Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Sandbars — Most waterways have uneven bottoms and sandbars. But Lake Wisconsin is a shallow lake, so the fact that it has several sandbars means sandbars pose a greater risk to boaters, especially during low water levels. Keep an eye on your depth finder, and if you’re unsure of the water depth, proceed with caution.
  • Floating and submerged tree stumps — Yep, you read that right! There can be floating and submerged tree stumps lurking beneath the water’s surface, posing a hazard to your boat’s hull and propeller. Stay vigilant, and if you see any debris, steer clear.
  • Underwater ferry cable — Near the Merrimac Ferry crossing, there’s an underwater cable that can be a hazard for boats. Make sure to pay attention to signage and avoid this area when boating.
  • Cold spring water temperatures — If your boat capsizes or you fall overboard in spring when the water is still icy cold, it may be only two minutes until you’re so cold you can’t move your muscles and therefore can’t get back in your boat or seek help. So, wear a whistle, wear a wetsuit, and don’t overload your vessel.

To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on Lake Wisconsin, always stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on the weather, wear your life jackets, and don’t forget to have a reliable communication device on hand, just in case.

Unforgettable experiences: top boating activities on Lake Wisconsin

Ready to make some unforgettable memories on Lake Wisconsin? Whether you’re into fishing, sightseeing, or water sports, this beautiful lake has something for everyone. Let’s talk about some of the most popular boating activities and must-visit destinations in the area.

  • Fishing hotspots — Lake Wisconsin is a fisherman’s paradise, with a wide variety of fish species to catch, including walleye, bass, and panfish. Some of the best fishing spots include the area around Okee Bay, the mouth of the Wisconsin River, and the numerous bays and inlets scattered around the lake. So grab your fishing gear, rent a pontoon boat, and get ready to reel in some great catches!
  • Scenic ‘cruises’ and sightseeing: Want to soak in the stunning beauty of Lake Wisconsin? We don’t have cruise ships, but you can take a leisurely cruise around the lake on a pontoon boat, kayak or paddleboard. And there are plenty of sights to see nearby, off-water, too. From the picturesque bluffs of Devil’s Lake State Park to Gibraltar Rock, a towering limestone bluff with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside, to the historic Merrimac Ferry, there’s no shortage of breathtaking scenery to enjoy. Don’t forget your camera — you’ll definitely want to capture these unforgettable views!
  • Water sports and recreational activities — If you’re looking for some adrenaline-pumping fun, Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River have you covered. With plenty of open water for tubing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, and water skiing, there’s no shortage of excitement to be had. And if you’re more of a laid-back water lover, you can always rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore the lake’s peaceful coves and shoreline while exercising (they’re not just for sightseeing!).

Join the fun: Lake Wisconsin boating events and community

Lake Wisconsin isn’t just about the stunning scenery and amazing boating activities; it’s also home to a vibrant community of boating enthusiasts just like you. If you’re looking to connect with fellow boaters and participate in fun events, you’ve come to the right place.

From fishing tournaments to picnics to ‘tie-up’ events to regular club meetings, there’s always something exciting happening on or near the water. We may not have much in the way of annual events, but we certainly have our fair share of fun adhoc events.

The best way to stay up to date with what’s happening, is to join one of our lovely communities dedicated to Lake Wisconsin boating. You’ll find a wealth of information and friendly advice from locals and visitors alike. And you just might make some new friends along the way.

Two of our favorite communities are:

Sail away: plan your dream Lake Wisconsin boating experience

And there you have it, folks! Everything you need to know to plan your perfect boating adventure on the beautiful Lake Wisconsin. From understanding the ins and outs of local boating laws and regulations, to exploring the best boat rentals, launches, and ramps, we’ve got you covered. All that’s left for you to do is ‘set sail’ and create unforgettable memories on the water.

If you’re having trouble deciding which type of boat to take out on the water (we get it, so many great options!), here’s a guide to help you choose the right boat for you. And if you’re not a local, our accommodation guide will help you choose a great place to stay.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab your gear, gather your friends and family, and get ready to embark on your dream Lake Wisconsin boating experience. With so much to see, do, and explore, you’re bound to fall in love with this incredible destination. We’ll see you out on the water! Happy boating!


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