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Do You Need a Boating License to Rent a Boat?

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

do you need a boating license to rent a boat

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.

Does Renting a Boat in the US Require a License?

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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

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  • 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
Alaska No No
Arizona No No
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
Hawaii No Yes
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 Jersey No Yes
New Mexico No Yes, for anyone born on or past Jan. 1, 1989
New York No Yes
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
South Dakota No No
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
Wyoming No No

Frequently Asked Questions

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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
Alabama 12
Alaska None
Arizona 12 (8hp+)
Arkansas 14 (10hp+)
California 16 (15hp+)
Colorado 14
Connecticut 16
Delaware 14
Florida 14
Georgia 12
Hawaii 15
Idaho None
Illinois None
Indiana 15
Iowa 12 (10hp+)
Kansas 12
Kentucky 12
Louisiana 16
Maine 12
Maryland 12
Massachusetts None
Michigan 14
Minnesota 12
Mississippi 12
Missouri 21
Montana 18 (10hp+)
Nebraska 14
Nevada 14
New Hampshire 16
New Jersey 12 (10hp+)
New Mexico 13
New York 10
North Carolina 14
North Dakota 12
Ohio 12
Oklahoma 12
Oregon 16
Pennsylvania 12 (25hp+)
Rhode Island None
South Carolina None
South Dakota 12 (6hp+)
Tennessee 12 (8.5hp+)
Texas 16 (15hp+)
Utah 16
Vermont 12 (6hp+)
Virginia 14
Washington 12 (15hp+)
West Virginia 12 (10hp+)
Wisconsin 12
Wyoming 16

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.

Conclusion

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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