Do you NEED a boating license?

Boating License or Captain's License

Warning: Unlike my DIY or training articles, this one is an opinion piece. 

I constantly read forums, social media and articles trying to address everyone’s questions and concerns about a Boating License. Do you need a boating license? Yes and No….It depends.

There isn’t one Boating License requirement for pleasure boaters in the entire USA. Some states have recently enacted laws with varying conditions to be met. These conditions include age, property ownership, how long you will be in each state if it is not your state, engine or no engine and other pertinent requirements.

Any new boat owner or a boat owner moving up in boat size and mass should be trained on the systems and operation of their boat. That may seem like an obvious expectation but there are no rules or regulations requiring proof of ability or skill. Really. Some insurers may ask for a sign-off from a professional captain to avoid future claims that could be prevented with training. And some insurers do not have any requirement other than you pay their asking price to be insured.

It will always be debatable about forcing people to get a government issued license, particularly when unlike your car driver’s license, no one is tested beyond the proctored paper or unproctored online multiple choice exam. That’s right! Even for your USCG license, no authority ever witnesses how well you drive your boat, or that you can actually drive it at all.


Consider these discussions.

When you consider the pros and cons and if you need a boating license or not, keep the following in mind:

  • SCUBA. Divers cannot rent equipment or have private air tanks filled without proving they are a Certified SCUBA Diver.  This is an industry self-regulating procedure, NOT a government law. In fact most SCUBA equipment shops do not sell equipment online. I assume this is to protect the untrained.
  • RVs. Are you aware there is no legal requirement to get a CDL Commercial Drivers License to drive a Class A RV bus? These monsters travel at highway speeds of 70 mph (or more) and require special skills and experience to stop them. This is especially key when driving on slick roads in rain, snow or ice. What about driving downtown and making tight turns right or left? Watch your toes if you stand too close the intersection waiting to cross the street. The internet has more details for you to consider. And I recommend you do consider before setting out on the highways with the rest of us.
  • Simple outboard boats on trailers. Should there be a law to require owners to become certified to use the trailer and launch the boat? If you are bored, mosey over to the boat ramp and watch the show.
  • Boating License, OUPV (6-pack) or Master? Depends upon if you want to work for hire or carry paying passengers.
  • Check with YOUR state to see what minimum requirements you must follow….then think about what else you should learn for safety’s sake.

New Boat Owner Training

Your new-to-you boat is a floating city. Many systems are aboard to support your floating city. And then, consider that this city is constantly in motion even while you are at home or work. Too often we see brokers that sell the boat, hand the new owner’s the keys, slap them on the back and say “Enjoy your boat”. Then the insurance provider can have a dilemma. Should they insure an inexperienced new boater or do so at an extremely high premium? It’s all about risk assessment.

And (big sigh), I cringe every time I hear someone say, “Just do it! It’s not like you’re driving the Queen Mary.” Yes, with proper training people can easily learn to handle their boat. And, some new boaters do manage to muddle through with minimal damage to themselves or others. But there are enough irresponsible boaters causing life altering accidents every day. We don’t need to encourage that behavior.

Now, let’s consider new boat owner requirements. Should vs must.

I believe you must follow your state laws. And, you should get professional training from a licensed USCG Master. Great Loopers enjoy having many sponsors that do exactly that- train the new boat owner. Learn what to know before you go and practice so you will develop skills and muscle memory. As a new boat owner you should understand your boat, how it responds and how to interact with others on the waterway. In some but not all states, you must take a test and get licensed. That must does NOT make you a safe boater all on it’s own. The training and practice should.

So Do You Need a Boating License?

So after all that discussion, do you need a boating license? Check your state for current requirements.

  • Get your Boating License from your state of residence if required because it is the law.
  • Get trained because it is the smart thing to do.

We offer seminar classes in Vero Beach to give you the fundamentals. We can assist you in locating the Perfect Boat and train you aboard your boat anywhere. Check out the daily video posts on our YouTube Channel   Learn what to know before you go.

Did I give your docktail discussion a kick start? I hope I at least got your attention with safe boating in mind. Let me know what you think by email.

Ask Captain Chris!  It’s a great way to start your boating adventure. 772-205-1859