⚠ Before you head to the water check the latest COVID-19 updates. We encourage you to follow CDC recommendations.
The requirements for a boating license vary by state, but all boaters can benefit from taking a boating safety course. This section will help you navigate through license terminology, guide you toward license age information for your state, direct you to a state-approved boating course, and outline reasons to take a boat license test.
How to Get a Boating License
Before you load your boat on the trailer or leave the dock, you should be asking yourself the question, do you need a license to drive a boat in your state? In other words, do you need to take a boat license test and what are the steps in order to get a boating license in your particular state? Let's walk through the answers to each of these questions.
State Boating License Steps
While each state's boating license age is different, the requirements aren't hard to find. Every state agency will provide information on approved boating license courses that you can take in a classroom setting or through online boating license exam.
Here are the steps that cover how to get a boating license, boater education card, or boating safety certificate:
- Make sure you understand that some states issue a boater safety education certificate, or a boater education card, instead of a boaters’ license. The boater safety course requirement is the same, but the terminology might be different depending on which state you live in. In addition, be aware of the difference between a boating license (obtained by taking a boater safety course) and your boat registration (documentation to prove that you are the rightful owner of a boat).
- When investigating how to get a boating license check the boat safety course requirements or boating education laws. While boater safety courses are often required for new boaters, remember that these courses contain good reminders for everyone else because boating laws change.
- Find out if there is a study guide or practice exam that you can use to study the course material. By checking with your state agency on this, you can find out what topics will be covered. In most cases, topics include the boating rules of navigation, state laws or regulations, safe docking in wind or current, required safety equipment, and how to tow or launch a boat. These courses are designed to help you, your passengers, and other boaters stay safer on the water.
- Take a boating safety exam that that has been approved by your state. When you pass a state-approved online boating license test or classroom boating license exam, most states will issue you a boating safety identification card (sometimes called a boating license).
- If you move from one state to another, know that the boating laws are likely to be different. You are responsible for knowing and following the boating laws in your new state of residence. A boating education or boating license course can help you learn the state laws and regulations when you move.
- Once you have your boating license or have passed a boating safety course, don't forget that you need to have your boat registration paperwork on board before you head out on the water. Most states make it quick and easy for you to register or renew your boat registration online.
Additional Boating Safety Resources
In addition to online boating safety courses, you can learn about boating safety in either a classroom or hands-on setting. Organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadron often provide boating safety courses that get you out on the water to apply what you learn in a real-world setting.
As a boater, it is your responsibility to know and follow all state laws in order to protect you, your family, and everyone else who uses our waterways. The more you know about how to boat safe, the more relaxing and enjoyable your days on the water will be.