Carrying firearms on a boat is an issue for more gun owners than one might imagine. Boating is a popular pastime, whether you’re fishing or cruising, and carrying a gun is a daily practice for many people. If you’re wondering about the legalities of carrying firearms on a boat—and if it’s even legal—we’re here to help. Generally speaking, the answer is: It depends.
As with anything, legalities vary by location, meaning your firearms may or may not be allowed in the place you’re boating. That is, although firearms might be legal on open water in the county or state you’re in, the specific body of water you’re on might prohibit them. It’s your responsibility as a lawful firearms owner to know and follow the related firearms laws.
Is Transporting Firearms on a Boat Legal?
Whether or not it’s legal depends on a variety of factors including the state you’re in, the type of body of water and, in some instances, whether or not you have a recognized concealed carry permit.
In Texas for example, boats are generally treated the same as any motor vehicle, meaning qualified persons can concealed carry a firearm on boats with or without a Texas License to Carry. Texas law also covers firearms on boatswhile transporting yourself and your firearms from your vehicle to your boat. That is, you can carry to and from your vehicle and boat as long as you take a direct route.
However, it’s vital to understand that there are certain Texas lakes and rivers that may prohibit firearms carry on the water altogether. Waterways controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers, for example, are governed by different laws, so be sure to check the specific authority that governs the body of water you’re visiting.
For bodies of water that cross state lines, such as Lake Texoma, a person must adhere to the firearms laws of both states (in this case, Texas and Oklahoma).
Can I Carry a Gun on a Boat?
In short, the answer to this depends on the specific laws, rules and regulations for the particular location or body of water you’re on. As always, it’s your responsibility as a gun owner to check the local laws. Remember, claiming ignorance of the law isn’t a valid legal defense.
If the laws and regulations regarding possessing or carrying a firearm on the body of water you’ll be boating on do allow firearms, you must then consider safety and methods. As with any time you carry a firearm, it’s wise to keep it holstered and in your immediate control rather than under a seat or beneath the steering wheel of a boat.
Is Gun Safety on Boats Different Than on Land?
Simply finding out if your firearm is allowed on the boat and open water in question isn’t enough. Safety with firearmsmust always be considered. The four rules of gun safety still apply—whether you’re on land or water:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Always be sure of your target and what’s beyond it.
Obviously, gun safety on boats is a bit more complex than on dry land. In many cases, you can’t see who or what’s below the surface, meaning you may have no idea what’s behind your target. For example, if the body of water you’re on is a popular swimming or diving spot, the odds are much higher there’s going to be a person out of sight and close-by. Adhere to the safety rules with the information you have available to you. And if you can’t see something, don’t pull the trigger. You’re responsible for every shot fired, so keep that in mind if you’re forced to defend yourself from a boat.
As for hunters who intend to hunt from a water vessel, the issue of safety on boats isn’t something hunter education programs typically touch on. Those programs typically focus on paying attention to the people you’re hunting with, which is certainly important, but there are a lot more variables to hunting from open water.
Hunting from boats is most likely to involve waterfowl, but there are some places where game (such as deer or alligators) can be hunted from open waters. In addition to a shotgun, a hunter might carry a rifle or handguns on their boat. Before hunting on open water, check the local laws to see what is and isn’t allowed. Some bodies of water totally prohibit any form of hunting.
In places where hunters might shoot game that’s located on a small island or elsewhere on a shoreline, while remaining in their boat, attention to safety takes on an entirely new level of importance. Hunters must be confident not only of their targets but what’s beyond them. Being familiar with the topography in the area you’re hunting is smart, as is having binoculars or a firearm with a scope powerful enough to see the area around a potential target.