How to Get a Boating License
Each state determines the requirements for operating a powerboat, sailboat or personal watercraft (PWC) on the waters in its jurisdiction (see our State Boating Laws, Rules & Regulations Map to learn more about the requirements in your state), and most require some sort of boating safety and education certificate, which may be called a boating license. In most cases the boat license course can be completed online, and is followed by a boat license test that is also completed online. The boating safety certificate courses are not as comprehensive as those for an automobile driver’s license; there’s usually no on-water driver’s education required, for example.
Follow these simple steps to get your boating license:
- Research the boater education requirements for your state.
- Complete an online, or in-person, boating safety and education course.
- Successfully pass the boating license test at the end of the course.
- Submit payment after course completion.
- Keep your boat license or completion certificate with you whenever you're out on the water.
Laws and Boat Licenses by State
If you buy a new boat and are a first-time boat owner, your marine dealer may be able to give you information on how to get a boating license in your state. A good resource for state-by-state information is the National Association of Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) which has a webpage with the basic training requirements for each state. Each state has its boating education requirements available on a website, usually in an area related to natural resources or transportation.
By visiting resources like Boat-Ed.com and BoaterExam.com, you’ll find links to the approved on-line boating courses available for each state along with the boating education requirements for each state. Not every state offers an on-line course. Connecticut only offers in-person training, hosted at sites across the state, and the classes are at least eight hours long and range between two and four sessions.
Taking a Boating License Course
The online boating education or license course for most states is administered by a third party, and there may be a course fee of $29 to $50 dollars, which is usually paid after you’ve successfully completed the course. The state may also charge an administrative fee. The BoatUS Foundation offers free boating license courses for 35 states.
The online course is designed to take about three hours to complete, and is set up in sections or chapters. You don’t have to complete the entire course at one sitting; you can complete a chapter or two and log off, and then return later to the point you left off. The course is structured to prevent you from simply clicking through the study sections to get to the exam. After each section there is a review exam that must be completed and passed before you can move on to the next section. These courses are not designed to make it difficult to pass; the point is to raise awareness by presenting information on every aspect of boating. The course will cover boating basics and terminology, navigation rules, state boating regulations, how to handle boating emergencies, and how to enjoy watersports.
After you complete the course, you’ll be ready to take the exam. If you pass the exam you can print your boating license and be ready to hit the water.
Boating Education Requirements
Boating education requirements vary widely by state. In Wisconsin, for example, you are required to carry a Wisconsin Boating Safety Education Certificate if you are at least 16 years old and born on or after Jan. 1, 1989, and will be operating a motorboat or PWC in Wisconsin. The rules are very different in Oklahoma, where a boating education certificate is required only if you are 12 to 15 years old and will be operating a boat or PWC over 10 hp or a sailboat 16 feet or longer. Each state also regulates the boating license age for those under age 16 to 18. Some states recognize the boating license issued by another state, but it is always the boat owner’s responsibility to know the boating license requirements for the state where they are operating their boat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a boating license to drive a boat?
Each state regulates boating education and licensing requirements. Some states require all boaters to have a license or certificate, while others have age limits for licensing.
Do you need a boating license to rent a boat?
Once again, each state regulates boating education and licensing requirements. Some states require all boaters to have a license or certificate, while others have age limits for licensing.
How much is a boating license?
The BoatUS Foundation offers free boating license courses for 35 states. Other providers offer the course and exam for a fee of $29 to $50, and the state may add a registration fee.
Do boating licenses expire?
Each state regulates boating education and licensing requirements. Check with your state for specific licensing information.
Do you need a boating license for a personal watercraft (PWC)?
Each state regulates boating education and licensing requirements, and most apply their boating license regulations to personal watercraft. Some states have a separate education program and license for personal watercraft. Check with your state for specific licensing information.
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