Boating licenses basics

Understanding the Basics: Boating Licenses

Written by Kim Kavin
October 31, 2023

Last Updated on October 31, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

According to the United States Power Squadrons, unless you live or go boating in Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, South Dakota or Wyoming, you might fall into the category of people required to complete some kind of boating safety course before getting behind the helm.

Maine will drop off that list as of January 1, 2024, at which point anyone born on or after January 1, 1999, will need to complete a boater safety and education course to operate a motorboat of 25 horsepower or greater. While the other states listed above do not require a boating license, they strongly recommend boaters, especially newbies, to complete safety courses, too.

Pro tip: You can learn how to boat with Boatsetter Academy, the largest boating school in the U.S. providing free hands-on courses.

Needless to say, all the different state regulations might make your head spin. So, we’ll start slow. Read our comprehensive post all the way through to understand the basics of boating licenses.

Post summary:

  • Are “boating license” and “boating certificate” the same thing? 
  • Boating education resources

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Is it called “boating licenses” or “boating certificate”?

Boat license basics

“Boating license” might not be called a license in the state where you live or go boating. It might be called a “boating certificate,” a “boating safety card” or something else—but it’s still required if you fit the description of people who want to operate certain types of vessels in most states. Those descriptions of who is affected can be surprisingly different from state to state, and can involve different types of boats. You can use this interactive map to find your own state’s requirements, but here’s just a taste of the differences among some of the biggest states in the nation.

  • Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-requires anyone born on or after January 1, 1988, to complete a course and obtain a Florida Boating Safety ID Card if they’ll be operating a boat whose engine is 10 horsepower or more.
  • New York’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation-requires everyone born on or after January 1, 1978, to have a boating safety certificate starting in 2024 if they will be operating a motorized vessel.
  • California’s Department of Parks and Recreation-requires anyone 16 or older to have a California Boater Card in order to operate a motorized boat with 15 horsepower or more, including personal watercraft. There are exceptions for 12- to 15-year-olds if they’re supervised by a person at least 18 years old with a California Boater Card.
  • Texas’ Parks & Wildlife Department-Specifies that anyone born on or after September 1, 1993, needs to take a Boater Education Certification Course to operate any vessel over 15 horsepower, any wind-blown vessel over 14 feet, or any personal watercraft.

Boating education resources

Woman learns boating basics to get her boating license.

Besides the places we’re highlighting below make sure to regularly your state’s wildlife department website to stay up-to-date on boating regulations. Discovery Boating is the largest online boating resource in the world. Alongside articles and inspiration, you can find more information on boating education.

Boat-Ed has a searchable, state-by-state database of approved courses that have been developed in conjunction with various boating safety agencies. These courses are approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, and are recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard. Canadian courses can also be found on the site.

According to the Boat-Ed team, it takes most people about three hours to go through an online course, not counting quizzes or exams. The courses are designed to work on mobile devices including smartphones and tablets, as well as on computers. There’s always us—Boatsetter! Not only do we offer free boating courses by way of Boatsetter Academy, but also we  have a hub of helpful posts on a wide range of topics including boating education, destination boating guides, and more. 

There’s always Boatsetter Academy! Not only do we offer free boating courses by way of Boatsetter Academy, but also we  have a hub of helpful posts on a wide range of topics including boating education, destination boating guides, and more.

Find Boatsetter Academy courses near you—Only at Boatsetter

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