Operating a boat varies from state to state. But do you need a boating license to drive a boat? Not exactly.

Most states require an individual to have a Boater Education Card, sometimes referred to as a boater’s license. This will act as proof of a completed state course.

You are not required to have a state driver’s license to have your boater’s card.

States require boaters to take these educational courses to help prevent accidents and in turn save lives. Whether or not your state requires it, boater education is encouraged by the American Boating Association (ABA).

There are also states with various age ranges/restrictions. If you’re born on or after a certain date, odds are you’ll need an Education Card to prove your ability to operate.

Seventy percent of all boating accidents are caused by operator error, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Incompetent boaters not only get in accidents but cause serious ones. Considering there are 12.7 million boats registered in the U.S., familiarizing yourself with the steps in obtaining the proper education is important.

This article will take you through what states require a Boater Education Card and those that don’t. We’ll also dive into what exactly goes into the testing portion of your boating license. Don’t forget about the useful equipment you’ll need with you while you’re cruising the water.


Do You Need a Boating License to Drive a Boat?

Before ever getting behind the wheel, you need to know, “Do you need a boating license to drive a boat?”

Mandatory boater education laws are determined on a state by state basis. Each state has its own unique education requirements, rules, laws, and regulations.

Boater education law is in effect for 42 of the 50 states. Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Maine, Arkansas, and Hawaii are considered outlier states. This means in these states there are no mandatory boat or water safety courses.

There are educational requirements that exist for the other 42 states paired with specific guidelines

For example, up north anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1989 is required to complete the boating safety/education course in order to obtain a Wisconsin boating license. Further south, the Florida boat license age requirement is 14 and older. If you want to operate a boat with a horsepower higher than 10 in the state of Florida you also need to have an Education Card.

Your license will be recognized by all states regardless of the one you obtained it in. Boater Education Cards that are issued by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) is recognized by all 50 states.

Understand your boating laws based on what state you live in.


Obtaining a Boater Education Card

There are online, home-study, and classroom courses that you can attend for your Boater Education Card. This also depends on what your state offers. All these classes provide a license using the same format and include the 287-page course manual.

Online courses provide lessons and tests the same as in-class lectures. There is usually a fee attached to these boater card courses.

Passing a boating safety course will also give you a lower cost on your boat insurance. Once you’ve obtained your license you’ll have to carry it with you. This card will be similar to your driver’s license in size.

So what goes into the test to get your boater education card?


Prepare for the Test

A boat education course will cover a variety of topics. Your knowledge will be tested regarding safety and boating practices.

The topics will ask you to demonstrate your ability to keep your boat operating smoothly, how to react in emergencies, and maintaining a working boat. There are also rules and regulations that boaters should be aware of.

Anything from indicating red and green buoys to what side of the boat is the port side is free game. These rules keep you safe while boating and also improve your knowledge of the boat if an accident does occur. The boat safety course manual covers five chapters of boating material like this.

The test might also cover some personal safety questions. Learning how to deal with carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia, or other health-related issues. Like any test, studying will only increase your chances of passing. There are a few online practice tests that future boaters have at their disposal.

These tests give individuals a sense of what the actual test will include. Once you’ve studied all the material, you’ll be ready to take the test and demonstrate your capability to safely operate a boat.

There will also be state-specific boating laws.


Required Boating Safety Equipment

Once you‘ve obtained a Boater Education Card, there are a few safety equipment items you’ll need to have on your boat.

  • Serviceable life jackets for everyone on board
  • Coast-Guard approved B1 fire extinguisher
  • Throwable floaty (required for boats over 16 feet)
  • Bell, whistle, or horn used to warn other boats
  • Visual distress signal (required for boats over 16 feet at night)

If you’re pulled over by the Coast Guard and don’t have this required, equipment you will be ticketed appropriately.

Make sure you find a boat that can support all the necessary equipment.


Find the Perfect Boat

You’ve determined the answer to the question of, “do you need a boating license to drive a boat,” and now you need one.

If you’re in the market for a boat, Find Boats For Sale has you covered. No matter what state you’re in, find a boat near you. We locate boats from all over the U.S. at a price you can afford.

Don’t have a specific boat in mind? Browse our website and find your next weekend getaway. We’ll find everything from personal watercraft to a pontoon and even sailboats. You want to be out on the open water and we want to get you there.

Give us a call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We will respond to all online requests in under one business day.

If you’re trying to find a boat, look no further!