Do You Need a License to Rent a Boat? How to Find Out

By Debbie Hanson

Dec 24, 2019

Wondering do you need a license to rent a boat in a particular state? Use these helpful resources to find out, get on the water with your family today

Whether you are thinking of heading off on a family beach vacation or want to rent a boat to explore your home waters, you will need to find out about the boat rental law or laws that apply. You should know that the answer to the question, "Do you need a license to rent a boat?" will be different for each state, so make sure you check when planning your adventures on the water.

You can read up on the difference between a boating license versus boat registration first, and then use these resources to find out about state laws as they apply to boat rentals.

  • Take a state-approved boating safety course through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to learn more about boat rental law, and get hands-on training so that you know how to drive a boat.
  • The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has an online reference guide that outlines the boating laws for every state in the U.S. This guide also allows you to check state laws on specific topics, such as personal watercraft operation or life jacket requirements.
  • Check with your state fish and wildlife agency. Depending on which state you are in, there are different requirements for operating a powerboat, sailboat or personal watercraft (PWC) on the waters in the state's jurisdiction. If you buy a new or used boat instead of renting one, make sure you register your boat.
  • Keep in mind that, in addition to state laws, there are federal requirements for recreational boaters as well. The U.S. Coast Guard outlines federal requirements.

Getting back to the question of what states do you need a boat license, in other words do you need a license to rent a boat in some states? Yes, most states do require a boating safety and education certificate, which may also be referred to as a boating license. In many cases, a boat license course can be completed online -- just don't forget that hands-on training and experience on the water is important too!

Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.