Boating License vs Boat Registration

By Tom Keer

Apr 19, 2017

Boating season is here, and to go forward without a hitch you'll need a current boat registration and possibly a boat license. Here's the difference between the two.

The difference between a boating license and a boat registration is simple. A boating license is earned when a person successfully completes a course of study that teaches them how to properly run a boat. A boat registration tracks ownership of a boat, that being from when it was made until the present. Registrations are required by law.

Until the past several years, boating hasn't been as regulated as driving a vehicle. In fact, only a few states officially require such a license for adults. For kids under the age of 18, taking a course has been required for young folks to operate a boat. That relaxed attitude towards adults has been changing over the past. Unlike before, despite its simplicity, understanding the difference between a boating license and a boat registration is important.

And so a boating license teaches folks along with boat safety. Students learn about rules of the road, how to read a nautical chart, how to use a marine radio, and the like. They're important water safety skills, and as that knowledge increases the number of accidents decreases. Even if you're a veteran boater it makes sense for you to take the class with one of your kids. In most instances, discounts are offered on boat insurance, too.

The type of boat that requires registration varies by state. Check with your , but in most instances, rowboats, canoes, kayaks and even small sailboats are not required to be registered. Motorized boats, commercial vessels and larger sailboats are. For a long while, personal watercraft (like Jet Skis or wet bikes) didn't need a registration, but many states have changed their position and require them to be registered. Bring along proof of ownership, a bill of sale, proof of payment of state sales take and the appropriate registration and title fees. To renew your registration you can head to the licensing office. Or you can register your boat online.

It's still early season, so get after your license and registration. Then all you'll need to do is to figure out where to boat and fish. That's the fun part.


Tom Keer
Tom Keer
Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at