5 min read

Boat Rental Rundown: Navigating License Requirements!

Ever dreamed of captaining your own boat, wind in your hair, endless blue? Before you set sail, let's navigate the choppy waters of boat rental regulations together!

Tobi Miles
October 4, 2022

Getting out on the water with the spray of water, warm sunshine, and beautiful views is a one of a kind experience. However, doing so safely and legally is a must to ensure everyone has a good time. Luckily, doing so does not have to be difficult.

Whether you’ve been a regular boating passenger, or this is your first time out on the water, there is a process to follow. Following all the steps will keep you and everyone on your boat safe and having a good time.

Usually, you do not need a boating license to rent a boat; however, this depends on what state you're visiting. Most states will at least require that you complete a state-approved boating education course or some other type of short test. You will then receive a boater certificate or education card, which you will be expected to present when renting a boat.

In this article, we will discuss more about what's needed to rent a boat, that way you're not stuck in between a rock and a hard place. Let's get to it!

What Do You Need to Rent a Boat?

Credit: photopavel / Flickr

As stated above, the exact needs and requirements to rent a boat will vary by state. However, the most common requirements will be a boaters safety course, a boaters education card, or a boater certificate. These prove that you have the minimum required knowledge to safely boat.

Boaters Education Card

Credit: Debbie Hanson / Twitter

A boaters education card is what most states will require you have before allowing you to pilot a boat. These serve as proof that you have the minimum required knowledge to safely operate a boat in whatever state you live.

To get a boaters education card you will need to complete an official, approved boaters education course. Luckily getting your boaters education card isn’t too difficult. In our modern age there are plenty of options for in person and online courses to take.

Once you have your boaters education card, you will need to carry it at all times while on the boat. On the plus side, as long as your boater's education card meets the NASBLA requirements, your card will work in other states too.

Your boater’s education course will cover everything from boat parts to state law, to casting off, and beyond. By the end of it, you should feel comfortable setting off safely for your boat trip.

Boating Safety Classes

Credit: Allan DeWall / Flickr

Boating safety classes are what you’ll need to take in order to get your boaters education card. These courses cover a huge range of topics to help you operate a boat safely.

Expect to learn everything from how to read the weather to using technology to navigate. You will need to make sure that whatever class you take is state approved, and ideally NASBLA approved as well

You can choose to take more advanced classes, but the basic ones required are typically spread throughout 6 to 13 lessons. These will provide a foundation on which you can build your knowledge and love of boating.

Age Requirements

Credit: Jared Chartrand / Flickr

The exact age requirements for being allowed to pilot a boat vary by state, just like most other boating laws. However, it seems the youngest most states allow is 12 years old. Others require you to be several years older, while some have no age requirements at all.

The states with age requirements also often require that kids of the minimum age be accompanied by a 21 year old licensed adult.  Depending on the state, the age requirements might also limit the horsepower a boat is allowed to have. It’s always best to check the state's laws for the minimum required age, to be on the safe side.

Once that age requirement is met, kids can also go through the boaters education course and receive their card or certificate. While some of you may worry about having a young child piloting a boat, it’s still a good idea to have them learn officially about boat safety.

Boating License Laws By State

Below is a list that should help you get on the right track with age requirements and license acquisition. It’s always a good idea to double check your state’s laws as they may have changed.

What Are the Basic Rules of Boating?

Credit: Community Boats / Flickr

While it's essential to have any necessary documents needed to rent a boat, it's also vital for you to know the basic rules of boating. Seasoned boaters will most likely know all of this, but for all people who are new to this, it's important for you to know:

  • Don’t go too fast. This one is common sense, especially when on busy waterways. Making sure you’re not going too fast will give you time to think. Having a few extra seconds to come to a stop or move out of the way could save someone’s life.
  • Avoid restricted areas. It can be easy to lose track of your surroundings when out on the open water. However, it’s essential to keep an eye out for restricted areas. These areas can be restricted for a variety of reasons, such as swimming areas, conservation efforts, and more. For everyone’s safety, stay out of these zones.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. This one is an expanded version of the last rule. Being aware of your surroundings doesn’t just mean watching out for restricted areas. It means watching out for other boaters, your passengers, potential obstructions, and other water crafts. As captain of the boat, it’s your job to avoid collisions and keep everyone safe. The best way to do this is to stay aware.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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