You Need A Boat License [I Show You How]

A boating license, also known as a boat operator’s license or a boater’s education card, is an official document that certifies someone’s abilities and knowledge in operating a boat or watercraft.

It serves as proof that the holder has successfully completed a boating safety course and test, demonstrating their understanding of essential boating rules, regulations, and safety practices.

It’s a big deal, especially as of today with the increase in people getting hurt on the water.

Where To Get Them?

Getting a boating license is easy, much easier than getting your driver’s license for your car. To get a boating license you go online, take a course, pay the fee, and then you print your proof of completion.

You can take the boating license online course and test at

Boating licenses are enforced by government agencies, wildlife, water patrol and other authorized organizations responsible for overseeing waterway safety and recreational boating. You will get a ticket if you don’t have a boating license when operating a boat.


Every place is different, so don’t assume you don’t need a boating license.

Below is a list of locations that require a boating license, for more details on this list, the US Coast Guard has them here.

State/CountryRequire A License
American SamoaYes
District of ColumbiaYes
New HampshireYes
New JerseyYes
New MexicoYes
New YorkYes
North CarolinaYes
North DakotaYes
Northern Mariana IslandsNo
Puerto RicoYes
Rhode IslandYes
South CarolinaYes
South DakotaNo
West VirginiaYes

The majority of states require a boating license, even if your state doesn’t require one, it’s a good idea to take one as you’ll learn a lot.


In a few states, the youngest you can get a boating license is 12 years old, others start around 14. Some states require everyone, even people over 18 years old, to have a license.

Some states may require people under 18 years old to take the course and test in person.

There are a few states that grandfather in after a certain birth year, but you will still need to have your regular ID for proof.

To see the full break-down on age, the US Coast Guard has it here.

Boating License Are Not Good Everywhere

Most states don’t recognize the boating licenses of other states, as the rules and markings are often different or different enough to warrant you taking their tests.

If you’re going on vacation and taking your boat or renting a boat, you will need to take the online course and test for that state. You get a proof of completion you can print out or keep on your phone to prove that you took and passed the test.


If you’re renting a boat and the state you’re driving the boat in requires a license, you will also need a boating license. It doesn’t matter if you’re renting or own the boat, a boating license is required for states that mandate them.

It doesn’t matter if the rental company says you don’t need them, the legit ones won’t let you rent unless you have the license.

Failure to get a boating license will result in a hefty fine.

License Vs. Certificate

I’ve noticed that many websites or rentals say you don’t need a boating license, then they follow up with you needing a boating certificate.

A boating license and a boating certificate are the same to me, and I use them interchangeably. It feels unnecessarily complicated to say you don’t need a license, but then say you need a certificate.

It’s all the same and may be required to drive any boat, even one you’re renting or a jet ski. About the only boats that don’t need a license to operate are ones without engines, so sailing and kayaks. Even then, taking the boating safety course is a good idea, as there is a lot of info beyond what you might think.


Does Everyone On The Boat Need A License?

Only the people operating the boat need a boating license, everyone else can enjoy the ride.

Ideally, you want more than one person with a boating license in case the captain gets hurt, has too much to drink, or can’t operate the vessel for whatever reason. It’s also helpful as you have more people who know what is going on and can help with launching, docking and emergencies.

In the boating license tests, you learn valuable emergency and important information that could save lives. I suggest everyone who can take the tests do so and get their boating license.

Car Driver’s License?

A regular car license is different from a boating license, but some states without a boating license may require some proof of ID if pulled over by water patrol.

You don’t need a car’s driver’s license, but you may need a boating license to operate a vessel.

You do need a driver’s license to drive the truck that is hauling the boat on the trailer.


Boating licenses don’t expire, so there is no need to renew it.

Losing your boating license may require you to take the course and test again, if you can’t get another copy, so it’s important you take care of the one you have. I suggest scanning it and saving on your phone or cloud storage, even better, save it in a password manager.

There may come a time that boating licenses expire, so if there is a renewal date take notice, but so far, I haven’t seen a state do this yet.