I know that I’ve been in the boating industry long enough. After all, I’ve already lost track of people who have asked me, “Do you need a boating license to rent a boat?”
My immediate answer is always to confirm your state’s boat rental requirements. Know that a vast majority of states allow you to rent a boat without a license, as long as you’re not operating the vessel yourself. You’ll likely still need to finish a boater’s education course in most states.
Read on to know which states have which requirements and the right age to rent a boat.
Table of Contents
Does Renting a Boat in the US Require a License?
We have to admit that the main question is too general and can be confusing. We need the specifics. For instance, we need to know whether you’ll be renting a boat that will be operated by an experienced captain or not.
If it’s the former, then there’s practically nothing to worry about when you want to, for example, rent a pontoon without a boating license. Only the captain will need to obtain the appropriate licenses, namely a Captain’s License or a Master’s License.
If that’s your only concern, then you can just skip to the requirements in the next section or you can head straight to a boat rental service that will likely enumerate them all for you.
Renting a Boat You Mean to Sail by Yourself
You still technically won’t need to acquire a license for a sailboat that you’re meaning to sail. Instead, you need to undergo a boating course or class like the one mentioned above.
However, I need to make it clear that not all states or any given rental company will require this certificate.
The card or certificate verifies that you’ve completed the course and have the necessary knowledge to safely operate a boat. Chances are the rental company will request you to sit through a boating education class before they even loan you one of their vessels.
I can actually vouch for these courses. They’re incredibly useful, even for more experienced sailors because you’ll get numerous handy tips that will boost your boating skills.
- They’re readily accessible online as well. Just head to the site: boat-ed.com.
- If you happen to be in Florida, you can learn the requirements and proceed to take the course directly here: https://www.boat-ed.com/florida/
- The same goes for other states, whether you’re in California or NY. Just change the state on the URL to the one you mean to rent a boat in. However, do beware that not all states will be included because of the non-requirement in a few.
In the end, as you can see, the confusion stems a lot from definition. “What makes a certificate any different from a boaters license to rent a boat?” some people wonder. In general, a certificate proves you have the necessary skills to sail a boat while a license proves you’re a professional boater.
If you’re asking this question because you’re wondering whether there’s a requirement to fulfill before being able to rent a boat in any state, then the answer is definitely yes. In fact, I’ve outlined every requirement in the next section.
General Requirements to Rent and Operate a Boat in the US
- Boater education certificate
- A captain that will be operating the boat for you (assuming you’re not the one fulfilling that role)
- Valid driver’s license (in some states)
- Vessel appropriate for your purpose (note: fishing boats require a fishing license)
- The correct gear for your specific water activity
- Safety tools and equipment (e.g. life jackets, distress signals, and fire extinguishers)
Overview of Every State’s Requirements Regarding Licenses and Certificates
This table assumes that you’ll be operating a boat in any of these states, rented or otherwise.
|State||Is a License Required?||Is an Education Certificate Required?|
|Alabama||No||Yes, for 13 years old and older|
|Arkansas||No||Yes, for people born on and past Jan. 1, 1986.|
|California||No||Yes, as all boaters 50 years or younger need a Boater Card.|
|Colorado||No||Yes, for 14- and 15-year-olds only|
|Connecticut||No||Yes, either an SBC or CPWO, unless the boat is in inland waters with up to 106-lbs of thrust and operates near sunrise and sunset|
|Delaware||No||Yes, for persons born after January 1, 1978|
|Florida||No||Yes, for people born on or past Jan 1, 1988 and operating a 10 hp+ vessel|
|Georgia||No||Yes, for people born from Jan 1, 1998 onwards|
|Idaho||No||No, except for PWC renters|
|Illinois||No||Yes, for people born on or after Jan. 1, 1998 and will be driving a >10 hp vessel|
|Indiana||No||Yes, for people at least 15 years of age without a driver’s license driving a PWC or motorized vessel|
|Iowa||No||Yes, for people aged between 12 to 17 years old|
|Kansas||No||Yes, for unaccompanied people aged between 12 to 20 years old, who will be driving a sailboat, powerboat, or PWC|
|Kentucky||No||Yes, for people aged 12 to 17 years old that will drive a 10 hp+ vessel|
|Louisiana||No||Yes, for people born after Jan. 1 1984 and operating a 10 hp+ vessel|
|Maine||No||Yes, for unsupervised people 12 to 17 years of age with a PWC or 10 hp+ boat|
|Maryland||No||Yes, for people born after July 1, 1972|
|Massachusetts||No||Yes, for unsupervised people aged 12 to 17 years|
|Michigan||No||Yes, for people born past June 30, 1996|
|Minnesota||No||Yes, for unsupervised people aged 12 to 17 years old operating a 25 hp+ boat or unsupervised 14 to 17 year olds driving PWCs|
|Mississippi||No||Yes, for people born past June 30, 1980|
|Missouri||No||Yes, for people born after Jan. 1 1984|
|Montana||No||Yes, for 13- to 14-year-olds driving a 10 hp+ PWC or motorboat|
|Nebraska||No||Yes, for anyone born past Dec. 31, 1985|
|Nevada||No||Yes, for people born past Jan. 1 1983 and driving a 15 hp+ boat|
|New Hampshire||No||Yes, for people at least 16 years old and driving a 25 hp+ ski craft or motorboat|
|New Mexico||No||Yes, for anyone born on or past Jan. 1, 1989|
|North Carolina||No||Yes, for people born on or after Jan. 1, 1988 operating 10 hp+ boats|
|North Dakota||No||Yes, for unsupervised persons 12 to 15 years of age driving a 10 hp+ boat|
|Ohio||No||Yes, for people born or past Jan. 1, 1982 driving a 10 hp+ vessel|
|Oklahoma||No||Yes, for unaccompanied people between 12 to 15 years of age sailing a 10 hp+ vessel/PWC or 16-ft sailboat|
|Oregon||No||Yes, for anyone driving a 10 hp+ boat|
|Pennsylvania||No||Yes, for anyone meaning to drive a PWC or those born from Jan. 1 1982 onwards with 25+hp boats|
|Rhode Island||No||Yes, for anyone born on or past Jan. 1 1986 and driving a 10 hp+ boat|
|South Carolina||No||Yes, for anyone unsupervised and under 16 years old driving a 15 hp+ boat|
|Tennessee||Yes||Yes, for those born past Jan. 1, 1989 and driving an 8.5 hp+ boat|
|Texas||Yes||Yes, for persons born past Aug. 31, 1993 and driving a 15 hp+ boat or PWC or 14-ft sailboat|
|Utah||No||Yes, for people aged 12 to 17 with PWCs|
|Vermont||No||Yes, for people born past Jan. 1, 1974|
|Virginia||No||Yes, for people aged 14+ and operating 10 hp+ vessels|
|Washington||No||Yes, for anyone operating a 15 hp+ vessel|
|West Virginia||No||Yes, for persons born on Dec. 31, 1986 or later|
|Wisconsin||No||Yes, for people at least 12 years old and born on or past Jan. 1, 1989|
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a boat license to drive a boat?
No, but you’ll likely need a Boater Education Certificate issued upon completing a boater’s safety course. You’ll have to carry it with you every time you operate a vessel.
How old to rent a boat in each state?
|State||Minimum Age Requirement|
|New Jersey||12 (10hp+)|
|South Dakota||12 (6hp+)|
|West Virginia||12 (10hp+)|
How much do boat rentals cost?
Boat rental services tend to charge per hour, but there are a few that charge on a per-day basis. You can rent a pontoon boat for $500, while powerboats typically charge more, topping at $2,000 a day. Other vessels charge $90 per hour, while a few top-tier ones cost $1,000 per hour.
There’s too much variability, in short, so it’s best to do a thorough canvassing of online (and offline) rental services in your area.
It’s easy to just answer “No” to the question, “Do you need a boating license to rent a boat?” since you’ll likely need the boater’s education card. This post clarifies that you still need to fulfill certain requirements, even when renting a boat, especially if you’re at a certain age.
Ultimately, it’s best to just confirm all the requirements and rules you need to adhere to by asking your prospective rental company.
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