Boats

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Boat License Rules Unveiled: Navigate Laws State by State

Ever thought sailing was just a breeze? Hold onto your captain's hat—navigating the sea of boating laws might just be the wildest ride yet! Let's dive into the rules, state by state.

Tobi Miles
October 4, 2022

Have you been wondering if you need a license to drive a boat? Boating season is everyone’s favorite time of year, but usually, the last thing a person puts off is getting their boating license. You may not have known, but each state has its particular rules when it comes to obtaining a boating license.

When getting your boating license, there are certain points that you’ll follow. First, you’ll most likely need to take a boater education course to receive your certificate. Secondly, you’ll want to research whether or not you need a license to rent a boat. Lastly, you’ll want to check your state’s current cost for licenses and ages for operating a boat. 

You may have been wondering, “So do I actually need a boating license to drive a boat?” The simple answer is no, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain rules or procedures you must follow. Let’s dive into some things you should know when it comes to obtaining a boating license.

Do You Need to Take a Boating License Education Course?

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Did you know that almost every state requires you to have some kind of boater education? This may look like some form of test that is administered by the NASBLA. The regulations will vary from state to state so you’ll need to make sure you check your state’s laws.

When you finish your boat test, you will receive your card saying that you have reached completion of their requirements. To prove your course has been completed, sometimes the Coast Guard or someone else may ask to see your completion card. In some states, if you can not show proof of your card, you could receive a fine that may be up to several hundred dollars.

These boating courses are required for both children and adults to take. If you’re traveling out of state, most states will still let you operate in their waters, but you must show proof and documentation if asked. As always, you’ll want to check the state’s regulations. 

There are some states, however, that will require you to take a boating course in their state to operate your boat. You’ll want to remember that even though children are required to take the course in most states, they’ll still need adult supervision. As the years pass, new laws are always being introduced so you’ll want to make sure you’re up to date on current laws.

Do You Need a Boating License to Rent a Boat?

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Whenever you go out on the water, you’ll always want to make sure you’re following the current legal and safety guidelines. In the United States, each state has its own laws when it comes to boating safety and its requirements. When you are planning to rent a boat, you always need to take this into consideration.

While the states don’t require you to have a boating license for recreational boating, they will require you to receive a certificate and complete a boater safety course. If you didn’t know, boat rentals fall under two types: those with and without captains. You can rent a boat with a captain without needing to have a certificate because you won’t be operating the boat.

You may also rent a boat that is not captained without having a boating certificate, however, you’ll most likely need to require proof that whoever is operating the boat has a certificate. In some states, it only will matter depending on the kind of boat you plan to operate. 

How Old Do You Need to Be to Get a Boating License?

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While the boating license age term may be described as the age you legally need to be to drive a boat, it’s important again to note that each state has its individual laws when it comes to age and education requirements. With some research, you can look up the legal boating age, costs, and education laws for your state.

In addition, depending on the size of your boat and how it‘s powered, your state may also have particular laws on those as well. It may not be required to have a boating license in some states, but you may have to complete a safety course. If you plan to go boating, please check your state’s regulations.

You may not have known, but each state may cost differently when it comes to obtaining a boating license. Below, we have put together a list of each state with their cost to get a boating license.

How to Get a Boating License in Your State

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If you’re a boat owner, then you know that driving a boat is no easy task and takes much practice. You may need to go out on the water several times before you actually start to feel comfortable at the wheel. Whether you have a driver’s license, or you’re of age, there are some things you need to consider.

Are you a boat owner? Are you currently in the market for a boat? Are you planning to rent a boat in the future?

If you’ve answered yes to any of the questions above, then the answer is yes, you need to get your boating license. Spending the day out on a boat is a fun, family-friendly activity for everyone.

Why Should a Boat Owner Have a License?

If anyone has a boat, they should plan on having their boating license. In the majority of states, you only need a boating license if you are doing recreational boating. Remember, just because you have your driver’s license, doesn’t mean that you’re clear to drive a boat on the water.

Having your driver’s license won’t prepare you for the rules of the water. When you’re on the water, there are no lines that will keep boats on certain sides. Having your boater’s license will teach you which way to drive your boat when passing another vessel.

To get a boater’s license, you will need to take an education course. A boater’s education course will teach you how to stay safe on the water. The National Association of State Boating Law will tell you who is required to have a boating card based on what areas you plan to have your vessel.

Where to Find License Education Classes in Your State

Credit: NASBLASafeBoating / Flickr

Did you know that the majority of boater education courses are hole online and through other sources? When searching for a boating course, you’ll want to make sure that’s it’s recognized by the United States Coast Guard.

The Boat US and Boat US Foundation has a list of boater education courses by state. What ever state you plan to be boating in, you’ll want to make sure that the boater education course is state-approved. If you’re planning to travel to a different state, you’ll also want to take a boater’s education course in that state.

If you need a full list of the United States Coast Guard state-approved boater’s courses, you can visit the boating site here. Most boating courses you can find for under fifty dollars and only have to pay a small fee to print your card.

License Laws: Compliance on the Water

When you take your boater’s education course for your state, you’ll learn the rules that apply for your state. Boating laws vary per state so you’ll want to read the rule book for the state that you plan to take your boat out in.

You can visit the state listing website to find your state and to get certified. Once you’re on the website you’ll want to look towards the right. The majority of states will give you a handbook of the laws and regulations of boating.

Even though you might know the laws for your area, you’ll want to make sure your boat meets all of the requirements for safety. The United States Coast Guard has a website that they recommend you visit to keep up with the rules of the water. The website has things included such as safety equipment, boating laws for each state, and any emergency information you might need.

Boat Age Requirement by State

StateCostAge
Alabama$34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Alaska$44.00The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Arizona$34.95Persons under 12 years old may not operate a boat unless it’s an emergency.
Arkansas$29.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
California $34.95The boating operator must be 16 years or older.
Colorado $15.00The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
Connecticut $50.00The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Delaware $34.95The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
Washington DC$34.95The boating operator must be 13 years or older.
Florida$34.95The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
Georgia$34.95The boating operator must be 16 years or older.
Hawaii$34.95The boating operator must be 15 years or older.
Idaho$30.00Age varies per county.
Illinois $34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Indiana$29.95The boating operator must be 15 years or older.
Iowa$34.95The boating operator must be 13 years or older.
Kansas$34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Kentucky$21.00The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Louisiana$39.95The boating operator must be 10 years or older.
Maine$34.95The boating operator must be 16 years or older.
Maryland$34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Massachusetts $39.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Michigan$29.50The boating operator must be 16 years or older.
Minnesota $8.50The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Mississippi $34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Missouri$24.50The boating operator must be 16 years or older.
Montana$54.50The boating operator must be 13 years or older.
Nebraska$32.00The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
Nevada$34.95The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
New Hampshire$17.95The boating operator must be 15 years or older.
New Jersey$39.95The boating operator must be 13 years or older.
New Mexico$39.95The boating operator must be 13 years or older.
New York$34.95The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
North Carolina$34.95The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
North Dakota$36.00The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Ohio$34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Oklahoma$39.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Oregon$34.95The boating operator must be 16 years or older.
Pennsylvania $34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Rhode Island$34.95If you were born after January 1, 1986, you need to pass an education course.
South Carolina$39.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
South Dakota$39.95The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
Tennessee $39.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Texas$34.95The boating operator must be 13 years or older.
Utah$39.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Vermont$39.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Virginia$10.00The boating operator must be 14 years or older.
Washington$34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
West Virginia $34.95The boating operator must be 12 years or older.
Wisconsin$34.95The boating operator must be 16 years or older.
Wyoming$39.95The operator should be at least 16 years old.

Before You Go: Requirements to Rent a Boat

When renting a boat, it is required to be over 18 years old, have a boating rental account, and make sure you have a verified form of payment. If you have met these requirements, you can usually rent a boat in any state of the United States. The rental company will verify if you can be the operator of the boat.

If you are operating the boat or bringing a person along to operate the boat, then additional requirements may be asked. In order for a person to operate a boat, they’ll need to meet the state’s legal requirements. In addition, you’ll also need to meet your state’s boating certificate requirements.

You can get your boating certification at several of online boating courses that are made to meet the needs of each state. The NASBLA has approved most of the available state courses. Some states, they’ll even offer you the boating course for free.

Article updated:
January 5, 2024

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