|Our regulations contain several provisions related
to motorboat noise. As a general principle, all motorboats must be equipped with a muffler in
good working order to prevent excessive or unusual noise. It's illegal to bypass a motorboat's
muffler subsystem or to alter or remove it.
Our regulations contain provisions for both stationary and pass-by tests of motorboat noise.
For a stationary test, the noise may not exceed 88 decibels or 90 decibels depending on the date
of manufacture of the motor. The pass-by test, which involves use of a sound meter as a boat
passes by, specifies a noise level not to exceed 82 decibels.
Finally, our regulations also contain a provision making it illegal to operate a motorboat
creating noise so "abnormally loud as to constitute a substantial and extraordinary annoyance or
distraction to persons in the vicinity of the watercraft."
It sounds like you want to do the "right thing," and that is appreciated. Because waterways
conservation officers have primary authority (and specialized training) in this and other
boating issues, it is somewhat understandable that a local police officer would hesitate to
become involved. If complaints are levied, even to a local police department, it would be
customary that such be referred to our officers.
Our conservation officers report that, in their experience with inboard jet drives (assuming
that is what you have), they can be significantly muffled with water baffles. The noise and
speed can be exhilarating, but as you apparently recognize, we have to share the waters and
surroundings with others. Your respect of that goes a long way.
There are a few resources on the web that provide more information on motorboat noise levels.
The complete text of the regulations on motorboat noise is found at Chapter 119 of the fishing
and boating regulations (58 Pa. Code Ch. 119). It can be found on the web at http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/058/chapter119/chap119toc.html
The Personal Watercraft Industry Association (PWIA) has an excellent page on the subject of
watercraft. Here is an excerpt on the J34 and J2005 standards quoted from the Society of
Automotive Engineers (SAE):
SAE J34: The most precise measurement available, taken of a boat at a distance of 50 ft.
with wide-open throttle (the near maximum noise of the boat). Although great for engineering
standards, it is difficult for enforcement purposes in the field. The Coast Guard recommends
86 decibels (dBA), which most states have adopted as law.
SAE J2005: This measures the engine sound at idle with the microphone 1.5 m away. SAE
recommends a limit of 90dbA for this method, which does not account for the speed or power
of the boat.
SAE J1970: In realizing the enforcement difficulties of the previous methods, SAE
designed this shoreline noise test enabling regulations keeping the boat under 75 dBA at 50
ft. by operation, not mechanics. The operator is responsible for controlling the noise of
Sound energy dissipates with distance, other sound and wind. A comprehensive study on
sound with motorboats (but not including PWC) found that sound dissipates up to 9.9dBA when
the boat travels from 50 ft to 200 ft away (4.8 dBA reduction from 50 to 100 ft, additional
5.1 dBA reduction from 100 to 200 ft.).
Both the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the
National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) have Model Noise Acts, which our
manufacturers follow as NMMA members. These requirements are in compliance with the SAE
recommended dBA standards. NASBLA requires 88 dBA under SAE J2005, and 75 dBA under SAE
J1970. NMMA recommends 90 dBA under SAE J2005. The Environmental Protection Agency has
determined that 75 dBA at 50 feet is an acceptable noise level to protect public health and