Is a Boating License or Certification Needed To Pilot a Boat?

If you are considering becoming a first-time boat owner, do not jump in blindly. Do some research. The need for and the process of acquiring a boat license varies by state. The type of license may even vary depending on the type of vessel and the pilot’s age. For example, personal watercrafts, such as jet skies, may have a different licensing requirement when compared to a yacht.

What are the requirements to go boating?

A man and woman take their Boston Whaler boat out to sea at Lyford Cay, Bahamas
A Boston Whaler | Slim Aarons/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The National Association of Boating Law Administrators, or (NASBLA), has a resource page for each state’s requirements. You can find it here. You can also select a specific state here. However, it is best to check with your state’s boating authority. 

It is important to understand that a boating education card is different than titling and registering the vessel. A boating education card signifies that the owner has completed the minimum state-required testing and has passed the course. Also, having such a card may qualify the craft owner to receive a discount on their marine insurance. Even still, a class will better acquaint people with water safety skills. So, the course or courses are a good investment of time and money. 

Boat licensing or certification classes online

Most states, not all, provide the courses online. So, with a comfortable seat at home and a few hours of time, many of these courses can be completed. In the states where in-person testing is required, check with the certified location as changes may be in flux due to regional restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It is important to note that a Captian’s license is different than the recreational boating license. A Captain’s license is issued by the United States Coast Guard. It is more involved and revolves around the type of usage, number of passengers, boating experience, and even the weight of the vessel. Captain’s licenses are more commonly used in charter boats, water taxies, and ferries.

Derelict, abandoned, or at risk boats

Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to abandon a boat, much like a car is abandoned in a field or on the side of a road. People abandon them for many reasons such as, the vessel gets too old, or it has become too much of a financial burden. So, it is not unusual to find derelict, abandoned, or crafts at risk for sinking or damaging other property to be left tied up or free-floating. 

A center console boat riding in a creek
A 24-foot center console boat | Sue Cocking/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

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Derelict, abandoned, or at risk boats are a danger. Don’t even consider abandoning a one if you no longer want it. They become floating dangers to other boaters, the waterways, and marine life. Municipalities can even fine you for the abandonment or possibly threaten your license.

If you have a boat you no longer wish to own, there are many people with the itch to repair them. Selling it may be possible. Local auctions will also often be happy to sell it off for you, regardless of the condition it may be in. That way, you can pass on the joy of being on the water to somebody else and not worry about losing your boating license.