Guns and Boats in Pennsylvania

Independent Program Attorney Justin McShane on laws affecting guns and boats in Pennsylvania:

I don’t know about you, but I am so thankful its summertime. And with summer, comes boats and boating.

A lot of the questions we get here at U.S. Law Shield of Pennsylvania surround acts and circumstances having to do with a boat in boating. One of the big questions is “Are my gun rights affected because I’m on a boat?” And the answer to that depends upon “Do you have a license to carry a firearm?”

Under the Fish and Game code, it is illegal for anyone to have a loaded gun, whether it is a short-barreled rifle, or a short-barreled shotgun, or any other weapon, any type of pistol, any type of long gun, loaded on a watercraft unless you have a license to carry a firearm.

That’s a whole other reason why you should go out and get a license to carry a firearm. They are easy to get in Pennsylvania.

Are Boats Vehicles?

One of the other questions that come up with self-defense—is a boat considered a vehicle? Why would someone care about that? Well, someone might care about that because, as we know in Pennsylvania, we have a very broad, very wide, Castle Doctrine that includes when someone tries to get in your car or remove you from the car.

Castle Doctrine has a presumption of reasonableness. Well, a boat is not a car or vehicle, and the vehicle code says that’s not going to be something that’s going to be covered under the Castle Doctrine in Pennsylvania. However, that doesn’t get rid of your right to self-defense. You still have the right to self-defense, you just lose that presumption of reasonableness.


Houseboats, we get questions all the time about houseboats. There are a lot of houseboats on Lake Raystown and other lakes in Pennsylvania. Is a houseboat a dwelling? A dwelling is important again because of the Castle Doctrine. If someone attempts to enter or breach your dwelling, the Castle Doctrine can apply. That’s the presumption of reasonableness that’s very powerful under the law. And the technical definition of a dwelling is any structure, which for the time being, is a home or place of lodging.

So houseboats can be a dwelling, depending upon how it is regularly used. In this particular set of circumstances that a dwelling can cover, but it doesn’t automatically cover the houseboat.


The final question we get a lot is because people like to drink while they’re out on the boat. Well, there are a couple of concerns you need to recognize. First off, there are definitely boat BUI rules, which have very serious consequences in Pennsylvania. They have the same traditional cut offs on the per se already, .08 and .02.

Depending on your age and circumstances, the other aspect you have to be aware of, and what we get asked a lot of questions about is, what if you are drunk in a boat with a gun? Is that against the law?

Believe it or not, in Pennsylvania, we don’t have a specific law like some other states as far as being drunk with guns, so being drunk with a gun isn’t against the law. You know it all depends on what you do with a gun. If you point the gun at someone, well that’s gonna be a simple assault. So regardless if you’re sober as a judge or as intoxicated as Cooter McGee, it doesn’t matter. It only matters what you do with a gun.

If you put a gun up in the air, shoot some rounds off, and there are people nearby, there’s the picture that you’re potentially recklessly endangering someone, depending on the specifics of the facts, and that is regardless of whether or not you’re sober or you’re highly intoxicated.

So that is a brief discussion about the way that boats and guns in Pennsylvania work.





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