Like driving a car, legally operating a watercraft has an age requirement. But how old do you have to be to drive a boat? Regulations change depending on each state but the age range usually begins from 12 to 16 years old.
Refer to this table to find out the legal operation age per state:
Mandatory Boat Operation Age
|State||For Boat||For PWC||State||For Boat||For PWC|
Keep reading to learn more.
Table of Contents
How Old to Drive
As mentioned earlier, the age requirement for legally operating a watercraft differs from one place to another. The common minimum age to operate a boat is between 12 and 16 although there are circumstances where it can be as high as 18 or there can be no requirement at all.
Boats and PWCs may also have different regulations pertaining to operator age as shown in the table above. A blank space means no limit is imposed.
The following states have simple limitations when it comes to age and it is enough to know the number as stated in the table above.
- New Mexico
The next set of US states have no imposed age requirement for operating boats or personal watercraft; these include Alaska and Illinois. While not a state, the District of Columbia is included here.
- District of Columbia
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
Some states do not impose any requirements for boats but do so for PWC; such is the case in Florida, Michigan, and the following.
- New Hampshire
- North Carolina
State Specific Age to Drive a Boat
It is permitted to drive a boat without a license in many states. However, other certifications may be needed instead.
Possible requirements to drive a boat include completion of a boating education course, a boating safety certificate, or some form of operator ID.
Let’s go into a bit more detail for each of the other states.
Persons aged 12 and 13 may operate any boat or PWC if under supervision by someone 21 years old or over. Those aged 14 and above may operate any vessel alone; however, all operators need to get a boating license.
Arizona regulations state that those below 12yo may not operate any vessel with a motor exceeding 8 hp.
Limitations apply only for vessels with more than 10 hp. Persons aged below 12 need to have a Boat Education certificate along with a parent or guardian 17 years or older.
For PWCs, the age requirement is 14 but a Boat Ed certificate is also needed. Those younger than 14 need to be supervised by an adult who needs to be within reach to assist in case of emergencies.
California law states that only those 16 yo and above may operate any vessel with a 15 hp or higher motor on their own. Persons at 12 to 15 yo may still operate boats and PWCs if under supervision by someone at least 18yo while aboard the same craft.
Persons 16 yo and above may operate any watercraft but those 14 and 15-year-olds may still operate any craft as long as they have completed a safety course for boating.
Anyone under 12 yo may only operate vessels not exceeding 10 hp while PWC operation requires the operator to be at least 16 yo.
There is no age requirement for boat operation in Delaware but PWCs are another matter and persons at 14 to 16 years may operate a PWC if under adult supervision. Supervision may be lifted if they have completed a boating class at 16yo.
A motor vehicle license is required to operate boats and PWCs with more than 10 hp for 16 yo but anyone at age 15 may also operate with the additional requirement of having a boating education.
Operators must be 12 years and up to operate boats 10 hp and over while PWC operation for those below 12 yo requires supervision.
There is no requirement for operating a boat but vessels with motors 10 hp or greater have a 12 yo requirement; the same for operating a PWC.
Only PWCs have a specified requirement of 16 years along with a boating certificate.
Anyone below 12 years old may only operate a boat with a motor of 10 hp or greater if under the supervision of a guardian 16 and up.
PWCs may not be operated below the age of 16 and 16 to 18 yo operators may do so only if accompanied by an adult or if an approved boating course had been completed.
PWC operation has a requirement of 16 yo in the state of Massachusetts while boat operation is permitted for those at 12 yo only with adult supervision.
The requirement for boats with a motor 25 hp and up sits at 12 yo along with boat-ed certification while PWC operation only requires the operator to be at least 13 yo.
All vessels have an operating requirement at 12 yo along with having completed an approved boating safety course.
Only PWCs have an age requirement of 14 years but those younger may still do so if supervised by anyone at 16 years or above.
Any person below 12 years must be accompanied by an adult while operators aged 13 and 14 have the option of going alone if certified. Anyone 15 years and up is free to operate any vessel alone.
18. New Jersey
Persons at 13 to 15 yo may only operate a motorized boat over 12 feet long if powered by an engine at 10 hp or less. A boating certificate is required for PWCs along with a higher age requirement of 16 years.
19. New York
Persons at 10 to 18 years may operate alone if in possession of a boating safety certificate while a 14-year-old limit stands as the age to drive a jet ski or any PWC along with a need for a safety certificate.
20. North Carolina
Only PWCs have a limit in NC where persons at 14 to 16 yo may operate only if accompanied by an adult or if in possession of a certificate from a NASBLA-approved boat-ed course.
21. North Dakota
A state certification is required for minors 12 to 15 yo to operate on their own for a maximum of 10 hp on any vessel.
A NASBLA-approved boat-ed certificate is required for 12 to 16 yo along with an adult who can take control of the craft in emergencies. The same limitations apply to PWC operation but supervision may be done up to a distance of 500 yards.
A vessel with 25 hp or more can only be helmed by those 12 years and up while PWCs have an absolute requirement of the same age.
Operators below 12 years may only operate vessels at 8.5 hp or less. If at 10 to 12yo, the boat may be powered by an engine up to 15 hp as long as the craft is at less than 14 feet. The minimum for PWCs is 12 yo.
Only those 16 yo and above may helm PWCs and boats with a motor of 15 hp and above.
The minimum for boats is 16yo while PWCs are at 18 years unless a course for PWC education has been completed.
Anyone below 12yo cannot operate boats with more than 6 hp. PWC operation age is at a minimum of 16 years and a boat safety certificate is also necessary.
Only PWC operation has an age restriction in Virginia and a NASBLA-approved course must be completed for 14 and 15 yo.
An operator must be 12 yo for any boat at 15 hp or more which is also the age requirement for boating license. A higher requirement of 14 years applies to PWCs while rental units have an even higher age specification of 16.
30. West Virginia
Any vessel over 10 hp has a required age of 12 and those at 12 to 15 yo may operate without restriction if under the watch of an adult.
Operators under 16 yo may operate any vessel but only with adult supervision.
What is the Youngest and Oldest Age You Can Drive a Boat?
The lowest age restriction specified is ten which applies to New York. However, certain states do not have any age restriction meaning even an 8yo can operate a watercraft legally.
There is also no true age limit stating that a person is too old to operate a boat. It all comes down to your fitness and chosen activity. As long as you can move your body enough and perceive the necessary signals, you’re good to go.
How old do you have to be to drive a boat? Now you know that the required age changes depending on each state. This may be more important than the age to get a boaters license since most places don’t even require a license for vessel operation.
Were you surprised at what age is specified for certain places? What age limit is imposed where you live? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.
Remember to boat safely.
“My intention from the first day establishing Boating Basics Online is to provide as much help as possible for boaters who want to experience a first safe and convenient trip. So feel free to join us and share your beautiful journeys to the sea!”