How to Get a Boat License: The Ultimate Guide
Written by Carolyn Jackson
If you are planning on enjoying a cruise on a lake or a fast-paced thrilling ride on a jet ski this summer, you might have wondered about a boating license. Do you need one? How much does it cost? This article will cover all the questions you have about boating licenses and how to get one.
Table of Contents
What is a Boating License and Do I Need One?
A boating license is essentially proof that you have passed some requirements (usually education-based) that qualify you to operate a boat or PWC (personal watercraft). Each state has different requirements for boating safety and operations. Some states require rigorous testing and certification and others have zero requirements to operate a watercraft.
If you are planning on operating a watercraft in your state or a neighboring state, you need to take a look at the specific requirements for that state to determine what qualifications you need to meet.
What States Require a Boating License?
Each state has its own laws and regulations for boating safety. Some states require a license, some states have no requirements.
Here is a list of each state’s boating safety laws:
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Boating License?
Most states do require some type of boating safety education. To meet these requirements, usually, you have to take an online or in-person course and get an ID card proving you passed the course.
On average, you can expect to pay between $55 and $65 for a boating safety course and the ID card.
If you are thinking about purchasing a boat or personal watercraft, you might be interested in our related article on How Much a Boat Costs.
How Long Does a Boating Safety Course Take to Complete?
On average, a boating safety course will take about 3 hours to complete. However, this does not include the mandatory quizzes and studying you will need to complete between the lessons.
In-person boating courses will usually take longer than 3 hours. Plan on either a couple of hours spread out over a few different nights or a full Saturday day for an in-person boating safety course.
Do I Need to Have My Boating License on Me When I’m on the Water?
If you are operating a boat or PWC in a state with a requirement for you to have a boating license, you must have it with you while you are on the water. If you are not operating the vehicle, you will not need it, but it is still recommended to have it with you.
If you are stopped by an enforcement officer on the water without a boating license will receive a fine.
What Age Restrictions are there for Boating Licenses?
Age restrictions are dependent on the state. Some states only require licenses for those under 18, some require licenses for those between ages of 14 and 18 and some require a license for all ages.
See the above table for an explanation of the boating safety requirements in your state.
What to Expect from a Boater’s License Course
Boating safety classes are often offered online, making them convenient and flexible. The courses will use a mix of video, images, and text to explain the basic rules of boating and how to operate a watercraft safely.
Some of the things you will be tested on include:
- A list of required items to have onboard
- The different parts of the boat
- How to navigate the open waters safely
- How to dock a boat
- What the different signs and signals on the water mean
- Specific laws and regulations for that state
Take a look at the Boat-Ed site, which shows you the courses available for each state and the requirements.
Getting a boater’s license is pretty easy overall. The first thing you need to do is figure out what the requirements are in the state you will boat in. You can then go to that state’s Parks and Wildlife website to look up the available boating safety courses, their cost, and how long they will take to complete.
Make sure you plan ahead and get your license before you are at the lake or ocean since it can take a few weeks for the process to complete. Also, if you got a boating license a while ago, I recommend that you check the expiration date and see if you need to re-up the license or take any continued learning courses to maintain the license.
If you are interested in purchasing your own boat but don’t quite know where to start, our Beginner’s Guide to Buying a Boat breaks it down for you and explains cost, popular brands, and what to expect at the dealership.
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