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The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has collaborated with the three lake protective associations to design and print boater's maps for East Okoboji, West Okoboji, and Spirit Lake. The Boater's Maps feature lake depth, location of hazard buoys, marinas, gas docks, boat ramps, and points of interest to boaters.

East Okoboji & Lower Lakes   8.5 X 14" paper size   2.2 MB file size  EOLIC    CLICK HERE

West Lake Okoboji               8.5 X 14" paper size   2.4 MB file size  OPA    CLICK HERE

Big Spirit Lake                     8.5 X 11" paper size   0.5 MB file size  SLPA   CLICK HERE

You can print your own map from the PDF files available here. The 8.5 X 14 inch paper size for the Okoboji lakes was necessary to show all the lake features. The 8.5 X 14 map may not proportion correctly when printed on standard 8.5 X 11" paper. The Boater's Maps are available at boat ramps, marinas, resorts, bait shops, Maritime Museum, Spirit Lake Mainsail, DNR Fish Hatchery, and invasive species volunteers.

For The Iowa Great Lakes:









Navigation Hazards - The Lake Patrol places black/white vertical striped buoys in areas with heavy boat traffic to advise boaters of potential navigational hazards.  The striped buoys advise the boater not to pass between the buoy and shore. The Lake Patrol is not capable of marking all navigational hazards.

Navigational hazard buoyed areas on the Iowa Great Lakes:

Big Spirit Lake
: Big & Little Stoney Point, Trickle Slough
East Okoboji
: Hafer Point, Narrows, Peppermint Point
West Okoboji
: Fort Dodge Point, Gull Point, Manhattan Point, Pikes Point, Pillsbury Point
, and Triboji Point
Silver Lake: Island

Additional hazard buoys (with an Orange diamond) may be placed between the black/white vertical striped buoy and shore to further warn the boater of the potential navigational hazard.


Starting in 2007 there are lights on some of the black & white hazard buoys. The white light flashes once per second from sunset to sunrise. The outer hazard navigation buoy locations with lights are:

West Okoboji: Fort Dodge Point, Gull Point (2), Manhattan Point, Pikes Point, Pillsbury Point

East Okoboji: Hafer Point, The Narrows (2), and Peppermint Point

Spirit Lake: Big Stony Point and Little Stony Point

Developing the ability to read the shorelines will help boaters anticipate potential navigational hazards. Generally, high banks will continue into the lake with deeper water -- low banks will continue into the lake with shallow water.




Restricted (No Boats) Swimming Areas Buoys (an orange diamond with a X inside) restrict a boat from being inside the designated swimming area.

Big Spirit Lake: Ainsworth Beach, Crandall's Beach

West Okoboji: Arnolds Park City Beach, Arnolds Park Amusement Park, Camp Okoboji, Emerson Bay Beach, Gull Point Beach, The Inn, Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp, Manhattan Resort, Methodist Camp, Pikes Point Beach, Presbyterian Camp, Terrace Park Beach, Triboji Beach




5 MPH Speed Zones – Buoys (with an orange circle and the words “5 MPH”) restrict the speed of a boat to 5 MPH or less.

Big Spirit Lake: Templar Lagoon
East Okoboji:
East of the RR Trestle, Narrows, Trigg's Resort
Lower Gar Lake
: at the outlet
Oak Hill Marina
Upper Gar Lake:
entire lake
West Okoboji:
Smith's Bay, Little Emerson Bay, Little Millers Bay, Lazy Lagoon, Okoboji Harbor, Wahpeton Canals



300 Foot Restriction – Buoys (with an orange circle and the words “300 Feet”) restrict a boat from exceeding 5 MPH within 300 feet of shore.

The 5 MPH speed restriction within 300 of shore for Dickinson County applies whether or not there is a buoy placed to mark 300-feet.

Scuba Diving Divers Stickers THE DIVE FLAG STICKER 2.5 in x 3.5


Scuba Divers Flag - A red flag (with a white diagonal stripe) means that dive operations are underway. This flag warns boaters to use caution when operating within 50 feet of the diver’s flag.  Divers must stay within 100 ft. of the diver’s flag when diving.



Skier Down Flag - A good safety measure is to raise an orange flag when a person that was being towed behind a boat is in the water. The flag should be up when the person is in the water and lowered when the person is being towed. This is a law in some states, but is not an Iowa law.


Taylor Made Products Sur-Moor Traditional Boat Mooring Buoy (15', Blue Stripe)


Mooring buoy – A white buoy with a blue stripe mid-way between the top and the waterline is used for boat mooring. Boats may not be moored and left unattended unless moored to an official mooring buoy.


Speed and Distance - The speed and distance restrictions control how fast and how close motorboats may be to another boat.  Boats cannot exceed five MPH within one 100 feet of another boat going five MPH or less. Boats must maintain a distance of 50 feet from each other when both boats are traveling at speeds greater than five MPH.  Boaters cannot exceed 5 mph within 300 ft of shore.

Nighttime Speed Limit - A nighttime speed limit of 25 MPH is in effect- except for emergency vessels - from one-half hour after sunset to sunrise on all Dickinson County lakes.

Personal Flotation Devices Iowa Navigation Regulations require that all boats have one approved wearable PFD on board for each person.  The PFD must be Coast Guard approved, of the proper size to fit the user, in good working order, and readily accessible to the user.  All boats 16 feet or longer are required to have an approved type IV throwable device on board.  All persons on a Personal Water Craft MUST WEAR an approved wearable PFD.

Each person who is age 12 and under must wear a PFD while the boat is underway. Exceptions are provided when at anchor, tied to a dock, aground, in a enclosed cabin, or while on a commercial vessel with a capacity of 25 persons or more.

Iowa Mandatory Boater Education Requirement PWC and boat operators (operating a boat with more than 10 HP) from age 12 through 17 must successfully complete an approved boat safety course before being certified to be a boat operator. Persons under 18 years of age can operate a boat or PWC, without certification, if they are accompanied on the same vessel with a responsible person of at least 18 years of age who is experienced in motorboat operation.

Congested Area Smith’s Bay, west of the Highway #71 bridge to Pillsbury and Ft Dodge Point on West Lake Okoboji - and the area east of Highway #71 on East Lake Okoboji are heavily congested boating areas. It is recommended that skiers, tubers, and boat fisherman avoid these areas and other areas of heavy boating traffic.

Wake Courtesy – Boat wakes can be dangerous to canoes, kayaks, and small boats with a short freeboard. Sailboats can be stopped dead in their tracks with excessive boat wakes. Boat wakes can cause shoreline erosion. At medium speed a boat can create a larger wake than it would at a slower or faster speed. Boaters are responsible for the damage caused by their wakes.

Water Skiing & Tubing A responsible observer along with the driver of the boat is required to watch the person being towed behind the boat. Persons being towed must wear an approved life jacket. While Iowa law permits skiing and tubing from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise boaters should be aware of the reduced visibility in the evening and early morning.

Safety Equipment It is recommended that all powerboats have an approved fire extinguisher along with a sound-producing device when in operation. In addition, there should not be more persons in a boat than the boat’s rated safety capacity. 

LightsAll boats while being operated or anchored on Iowa waters from sunset to sunrise must display the proper navigational lighting for that type of boat.  Please refer to the Iowa Boating Regulations for the proper lighting for your boat.

Personal Water Craft – All persons on a PWC must be wearing a Personal Flotation Device. The number of persons onboard a PWC must not exceed its rated person capacity, including any person being towed. A PWC can not be operated after sunset or before sunrise. The operator of a PWC must comply with the Iowa Mandatory Boater Education Requirement. PWC's must follow the same water safety laws that apply to boaters.

Careless Operation – Shooting water guns at moving boats and passengers can distract the driver causing an accident or cause injury to passengers. This is particularly true in the congested areas in the Iowa Great Lakes. A person riding the bow of a moving boat may be tossed overboard by a large wave and run over before the driver has an opportunity to act.

Hypothermia – Even on hot summer days in mid summer our lakes waters rarely get above 80 degrees, which can cause someone in the water for an extended period to loose body core heat (Hypothermia). Watch for the warning signs of Hypothermia: purple lips, shivering, and the loss of the use of body extremities. For more information on Hypothermia see the WSC website.

Boating While Intoxicated - A person cannot operate a motorboat or sailboat while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances. The boating blood alcohol level in Iowa is now 0.08.  Please be safe - alcohol and boats do not mix.

Weather – The safe boater should be alert to changing weather conditions. Most of the summer severe weather comes from the West. Weather information for the Iowa Great Lakes is available on Cable TV channel 21 and 23, KUOO 103.9 FM, KICD 1240 AM, or NOAA continuous weather broadcast on 162.55 MHz.

Aquatic Invasive Species – The Iowa Great Lakes is free of aquatic invasive species such as Eurasian Watermilfoil and the zebra muscles. Please help by always cleaning your trailer and boat before placing them in the waters of the Iowa Great Lakes.

Boat Noise All motorboats are required to have adequate muffling devices on their boat while operating on the waters in the State of Iowa. The use of a “Captains Call” switch, which diverts the exhaust engine noise above the water line, could result in a violation the motorboat noise restrictions.

Law Enforcement State Conservation Officers employed by the Department of Natural Resources are charged with the enforcement of Iowa boating laws.  Law Enforcement boats are typically marked with "Law Enforcement" on their side and will display an emergency blue flashing light.

Accident Reporting: Whenever any boat is involved in a collision, accident or casualty, except one, which results only in property damage not exceeding $2,000 dollars, must file a report with the DNR Lake Patrol. Iowa Boat Accident Operator's Report

Communications – Emergency telephone contact for the Lake Patrol and water rescue is 911. The Lake Patrol also monitors Marine Radio channel 16 for emergency communications. Non-emergency information can be relayed to the Lake Patrol by calling the Spirit Lake Communications Center 712/ 336-2525. DNR information on docks, buoys, rafts, shoreline, fishing licenses, etc. can be obtained by calling the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery – phone 712/ 336-1840. For Lake Patrol issues contact Conservation Officer Steve Reighard by cell phone (712) 260-1018 - OR - Jeff Morrison by cell phone (712) 260-1017.

If you observe careless boat operation, a telephone call can be made to the Spirit Lake Communications Center – NON emergency telephone 712/ 336-2525.

1)      Advise the dispatcher the type of careless or illegal operation.

2)      Provide a description of the boat - type, color, number of persons, etc.

3)      Its present location and, if possible, its direction of travel.

The SL Communications Center can radio this information to the Lake Patrol boats. If the situation is more serious - rising to the nature of an emergency - a call to 911 will bring a faster response. Keep in mind the Lake Patrol will not always have a patrol boat in the area that can observe the careless operation and stop the offender.

 Contact – The Water Safety Council is open to suggestions for ways to improve water safety.  The WSC can be contacted at email or by mail at PO Box 232, Spirit Lake, IA 51360. 

The Legal Requirements of Iowa Boating
     -  Who May Operate a Vessel

  • Persons under 12 years of age may operate a vessel propelled by a motor of more than 10 horsepower, including a personal watercraft, only if he or she is accompanied on board by a responsible person at least 18 years old and experienced operating the vessel.
  • Persons 12 years of age or older but younger than 18 years of age may operate a vessel propelled by a motor of more than 10 horsepower, including a personal watercraft, only if he or she:
    • Has successfully completed a boater education course approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources or...
    • Is accompanied on board by a responsible person at least 18 years old and experienced operating the vessel
  • Persons required to have successfully completed a boating safety course must carry their boater education certificate on board and make it available upon request of an enforcement officer.
Boater Education Certificate for Iowa Boater Education Certificate

Operators required to have a Boater Education Certificate must carry it on board.

In order to meet this requirement, any NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators) approved boating course with the NASBLA logo will be accepted. A person in need of a water safety certificate may obtain one in the following ways:

Only has hundreds of real-life boating videos plus interactive animations-you'll feel like you're on the water! (1)

Through's online Iowa Boating Safety Course, you'll discover an interactive environment which will result in your Watercraft Safety Certificate! (2)

The BoatUS Foundation's Online Boating Safety Course is the only free course approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

BoatUS Foundation (3)

1. Only has hundreds of real-life boating videos plus interactive animations-you'll feel like you're on the water! Master the same content Iowa DNR selected for its classroom boating safety course. is split into fast-paced, super-short segments, and you'll have fun and frequent "learning checks" along the way.

No charge until you pass, and you print a temporary boating safety course certificate. The cost is $29.50, plus $5 to Iowa DNR for your permanent card.

2.Through's online Iowa Boating Safety Course, you'll discover an interactive environment which will result in your Watercraft Safety Certificate! This is the only online course that offers a fully narrated and animated study guide with over 40 interactive exercises and upwards of 400 detailed illustrations; these visual aids in every exam question are a must for visual learners!

The Iowa Watercraft Safety Certificate is proof that you've passed a boating safety course approved by the DNR. To get your certificate, simply complete the course and exam at your own pace. Once completed, you can print your Temporary Certificate immediately and go boating right away!

Best of all, the course is free to register - you pay only when you've passed the exam! Visit today and find out why students love our course! Cost: $29.95 + $5 state fee for the Boater Exam course.

3. The BoatUS Foundation's Online Boating Safety Course is the only free course approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Offered through the Foundation's Online Learning Center, the new course includes videos that demonstrate important safety devices such as visual distress signals, how to prevent and extinguish fires aboard your boat, and the best way to fit a life jacket to a child so they will not slip out. Animations demonstrate important navigation rules and the course is loaded with photos of real boats and boating equipment from start to finish. This free course is available because of the generous donations of BoatUS members.

4. The Iowa DNR also offers the home study boater education booklet and exam that can be obtained from the Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery at 122 252nd Avenue in Orleans. Telephone 712/ 336-1840.  Once the exam is completed the test can be graded at the Fish Hatchery and with a passing grade a Water Safety Certificate can be issued.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced when any carbon-based fuel is burned. As a result of CO concentrations in the air, early symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, nausea, dizziness, irritated eyes and weakness. These early symptoms are often confused with sea sickness, but with extremely high concentrations or prolonged durations of exposure the result can be death.

See website:

On a boat there are numerous sources of CO, such as a gasoline engine, gasoline generator, propane, and charcoal. These are fuels that we depend on to get us to and from our destination, keep us cool, provide electricity, and heat or cool our food.

CO becomes dangerous when it collects within and around a boat. CO can enter a cabin of a boat from different sources including: hot water heaters, galley stoves, improper ventilation while in motion (the “station wagon effect”), and exhaust leaks in your boat as well as from moored boats nearby. CO can collect in areas around a boat such as: near the swim platform, which is generally found close to the engine exhaust, and areas where boat overhangs can create pockets of air

Teak Surfing or Dragging is a new activity where a swimmer holds on to the swim platform while the boat drags them through the water. This activity puts a person in direct proximity to extremely high concentrations of CO as well as a moving propeller.

Some Simple Precautions can be taken to avoid exposure to CO:

·         Avoid known locations where the gas can be present.

·         Have regular maintenance done on your engine and exhaust system by a trained technician.

·         Install a CO detector in the cabin of a boat.

·         Be aware that CO can accumulate when a boat is running its engine or generator while at a dock or seawall.

·         Open hatches and keep fresh air circulating throughout the boat to avoid exhaust fumes from reentering the aft part of the boat – the station wagon effect.

·         Turn off the engine or generator when people swim near the boat. Take your passengers water skiing instead of teak surfing.

·         Be aware that if a passenger has the symptoms of seasickness it could be CO poisoning and they should immediately be moved to fresh air.

·         Get a vessel safety check.

         This section provides a short summary of safe boating information.

Please refer to Iowa boating laws and the Administrative Code of Iowa for more specific information.


Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council PO Box 232 Spirit Lake, IA 51360