The Common Law

Boating on Town Lake – What's the Law?

I usually see kayaks and canoes on Town Lake, but sometimes I've seen small motor boats cruising around really slow. Can a motor boat go on Town Lake as long as it goes really slow?

So you are thinking about firing up the ski boat for a spin around Town Lake? Think again.

The Texas Water Safety Act is the statewide law that addresses general water safety issues. The fact that there are way too many lakes and rivers for the state to regulate leaves considerable room for other governmental bodies, like the city of Austin, to create ordinances governing specific conduct on their local waterways. For example, the city of Austin has established several ordinances for Lake Austin, Town Lake and Lake Walter E. Long which are designed to protect the health and safety of the public using the area lakes.

According to the Austin ordinance for Town Lake, "no person shall operate a gas-powered motor vessel on the waters of Town Lake, except with the permission of the city." In comparison, boats with electric motors are allowed to operate on Town Lake, but only if the electric motor does not exceed a capacity of five horsepower. Officers or employees of the city who are acting in performance of their official duties are exempt. Anyone else that drops a powerful boat in Town Lake will be in violation of the city ordinance.

While I'm on the subject, here are a few other things the city of Austin says you can't do on Town Lake:

Swimming, bathing, wading, or otherwise entering the waters of Town Lake is prohibited (unless you are trying to rescue "human beings" – jump in Town Lake to rescue an animal and, in theory, you could still be in violation of the ordinance)

Jumping from any bridge that crosses the Colorado river within Austin city limits; and no person within 150 yards of the shoreline of Town Lake can propel or launch fluid filled balloons or other projectiles toward the lake (who knew that water balloons were such a problem that they needed to include them in the Town Lake ordinance?).

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Johns, Marrs, Ellis. & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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