A Boater’s Guide to Tennessee and Kentucky

Percy Priest Lake | Credit: Daniel Halseth

Tennessee and Kentucky are havens for outdoor enthusiasts, and many residents love nothing more than heading out on the water for a day of tranquility and relaxation. 

Tennessee and Kentucky have many scenic lakes and rivers where residents and visitors can boat, fish, and immerse themselves in natural beauty. Let’s look at some important boating details in our quick boater’s guide to Tennessee and Kentucky.

Where to Boat

Below are some of the top destinations for boating in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Kentucky Lake, KY: Kentucky Lake is the biggest lake in the state and the largest artificial lake east of the Mississippi. State record-sized fish of various species have been caught in its waters, attracting anglers from all over.

Lake Cumberland, KY: Lake Cumberland is another fishing hotspot and one of Kentucky’s premier boating destinations, comprising several marinas for boating access. It is known for its heavily forested coastline, sandy beaches, and calm waters. 

Percy Priest Lake, TN: Percy Priest Lake, near Nashville, brings many anglers due to its substantial freshwater fish populations. Numerous boat ramps and marinas make exploring this large lake a breeze.

Norris Lake, TN: Quite possibly Tennessee’s most picturesque lake, Norris Lake is ideal for beating the heat. This scenic reservoir has a vast shoreline and clear, blue waters that beckon boaters in, and its many marinas and beaches further add to its appeal. 

Major Boating Events

Numerous events in Kentucky and Tennessee are specifically targeted toward boaters, reflecting their long-standing boating culture and deep appreciation for it. Let’s look at some events in Tennessee and Kentucky that boaters should keep an eye on.

Nashville Boat Show: The Nashville Boat Show takes place in January at the Music City Center every year. With many boats, equipment, and merchandise on sale, boaters can get the supplies they need for the upcoming boating season.

Louisville Boat, RV & Sportshow: The Louisville Boat, RV & Sportshow is at the Kentucky Exposition Center every January. This is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts to find everything that’s needed to have an ideal season filled with outdoor recreation in Kentucky.

Important Rules

Tennessee and Kentucky’s boating laws are enforced by their respective wildlife agencies. These rules are in place to protect boaters, citizens, and the environment.

In both Kentucky and Tennessee, boaters must be 12 years or older to operate a motorized boat of varying horsepower. In Kentucky, that limit applies to boats of 10 horsepower or more, while in Tennessee, the limit applies to 8.5 horsepower or more. In both states, there are tests that must be taken and licenses boaters must acquire. In Kentucky, this applies to anyone between the ages of 12–17 years old, while in Tennessee, this applies to all people born after 1989.

Also, in both states, every boat must have at least one personal flotation device on board for every person on the boat, and in Kentucky, anyone under 12 must be wearing a flotation device in open areas of the boat. Each state has rules about speed limits that depend on which lake you are on.

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