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Do I Need a License to Drive a Boat? (Boat Rules by States)

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

do i need a license to drive a boat

Statistica reported 658 deaths and 2, 641 injuries in 2021 due to boating accidents. With this data, there is no doubt that boating safety is essential. So, you ask – do I need a license to drive a boat?

Many states require a boating safety education before you can operate a boat, which will be a prerequisite to getting a boat license or boater’s education safety card. This card may not qualify as a license, but boaters consider it one.

Do I Need a Boat License to Drive a Boat?


Statistics reveal that proper boating safety education can help in reducing boating accidents. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) report in 2019 shows that only 20% of boating deaths occurred on vessels captained by those holding boating safety certificates or boat driver’s license holders.

The requirements to drive a boat are different per state. Some states may require an actual boating license card or a boater safety education card to operate a boat. Other states may only require the boater safety education certificate.

  • Most boaters consider the boater’s safety education card a boater’s driver’s license. The boater’s card is proof that you have completed boating safety education. Technically, the boater’s card may not qualify as a license because it does not expire.
  • In some states, you need a boater’s license to drive a boat (a certificate may not be enough). The boating license requirements can vary depending on the state.

In Texas, boaters can get a license through the Texas Party Boat Operator Licensing Program. There are many requirements to get a license in Texas, including, the minimum age of 21, a Boater Education Course, a license application form, and others.

Different states may also have different guidelines regarding who needs a boater’s license.

Often, the operator’s age is one of the determining factors in whether a boater license or a Boater Education Card is required. For example, operators aged 12 to 15 are required in Massachusetts, but those above 15 are not.

Which States Require a Boater Safety Education and a License?


It is important to know which states require a boating license or a boater safety education before the start of the boating season or before going on a boating adventure. This knowledge will avoid hiccups that could ruin the fun and enjoyment.

Check the table below that also shows the age requirement or date of birth limitations.

State Safety Boating Education Course Required? Boating License Required? Minimum Age to Operate without Supervision Learning Period Date of Birth Limitation (Who is required?)  

Important to Note

Alabama Yes Yes 12 12-14
Alaska No, but recommended. No
Arizona No, but recommended. No
Arkansas Yes Yes January 1, 1986.
California Yes Yes
Colorado Yes No 16 14-15
Connecticut Yes Yes Education and license are only required for vessel owners who wish to boat for more than 60 days in a year.
Delaware Yes Yes 16 14-16 January 1, 1978 The boating course must be approved by the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Florida Yes Yes January 1, 1988 The boating safety course must be approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).
Georgia Yes Yes 16 12-15
Hawaii Yes Yes 15 Two separate boater safety education might be required for all Personal Watercraft (PWC) operators.
Idaho Only for PWC. No
Illinois Yes, for learners. No 10 10-18 January 1, 1998
Indiana No No 15 15
Iowa Yes, for learners. No 12 12-17
Kansas Yes, for learners. No 12 12-20 January 1, 1989
Kentucky Yes Yes 12 12-17 Kentucky Safety Boating Certificate Card is required even for tourists.
Louisiana Yes No   16 and below January 1, 1984
Maine Yes No 12 12-16
Maryland Yes No 16 July 1, 1972 The safety boating education needs approval from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Massachusetts Yes No 12 12-16
Michigan Yes, for operators below 21 years old. No 12 12-15
Minnesota Yes, for learners. No 12 12-17
Mississippi Yes June 30, 1980 Approval of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks is required.
Missouri Yes January 1, 1984
Montana Yes, for learners. 13-14
Nebraska Yes 14-18 January 1, 1986
Nevada Yes January 1, 1983
New Hampshire Yes No 16 Recognized certificates issuers include, NASBLA, US Power Station, US Coast Guard Auxiliary, US Coast Guard (must not be expired), and State of New Hampshire (must not be expired).
New Jersey Yes Yes 16 16-18 Boaters are required to Complete the New Jersey State Police approved boating safety education and get the motorboat license.
New Mexico Yes Yes Under 13 January 1, 1989
New York Yes Yes 10 10-14 May 1, 1996
North Carolina Yes No 14-16 January 1, 1988
North Dakota Yes No 12 12-15
Ohio Yes No 12 12-16 January 1, 1982
Oklahoma Yes, for learners. No 12 12-16
Oregon Yes No 12 12-16
Pennsylvania Yes No 11 11-16 January 1, 1982
Rhode Island Yes No January 1, 1986
South Carolina Yes, for learners. No 16 years old and below
South Dakota Yes, for learners. No 12 12-14
Tennessee Yes No 12 and below January 1, 1989 The Tennessee Boater Education must proctor the assessment to get a Boater Education Certificate.
Texas Yes Yes 13 and below September 1, 1993 The boating safety education course is only provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Utah Yes, for learners. Yes 16 16-17
Vermont Yes No 10 10-12 January 1, 1974
Virginia Yes, for learners. No 14 14-15
Washington Yes, for learners. No 12 12-20
West Virginia Yes No 12 12-14 January 1, 1987
Wisconsin Yes No 16 January 1, 1989
Wyoming No No 16 and below

Which Type of Boats Require a License or a Boating Safety Education?


So, what size of boat requires a license? Generally, most states require boating safety education for operators of PWC or any other recreational boats. As far as the license requirement, it depends on which waters you are sailing.

I thought you also wanted to know the boats that don’t require a license.

Generally, you will be required to have a license if you operate a boat longer than 15 meters and can go more than 20 km/hour.

However, licensing is not so much on the boat but on the operator. 

You can check the table above to see if the state you plan to explore requires a boater safety education and a license.

If you are also wondering who needs a boating license to drive a boat, you can check the age restrictions concerning which type of boat one can operate. In Washington state, for example, no person under 12 is allowed to operate a boat with 15 horsepower or higher.

What Happens if You Don’t Have a Boater’s License?


Each state has its own boating law, and violating the law is a crime. Violators of a boating law can result in losing your right to operate a boat for a certain period.

Not knowing the boating requirements before going out to the waters will cause inconveniences. Driving a boat without a license may result in fines and jail time. Penalties and fines can be very costly for boaters.

Another disadvantage of not having a license is the apparent lack of knowledge to boat safely. The boating education safety programs are designed to increase your safety while you enjoy your boating adventure.

Getting a boating safety license is critical to a successful and fun boating experience. Your license will be recognized in all states. Furthermore, you don’t need to renew your boating license.


“Do I need a license to drive a boat?” is a very important question. A boating license card or a boater’s safety education card are required in most states in the U.S. Some states may only require you to present the boating safety education certificate.

There are also some states that do not require a boating education certificate or license card. These include the states of Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Virginia, and Wyoming.

So, when do you need a boat license? You need the license when you boat on the waters of the U.S. states that require one.

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