Having access to a boat when you’re going fishing gives you a lot more access to different areas of the lake, reservoir, or ocean you plan on fishing. A boat opens up a world of fishing opportunities, but before you take your boat out, you’ll need a valid boat license.

Not only is a boat license a legal requirement in almost all states and countries, but it also demonstrates that you have the skill to safely operate your boat. This is important for two reasons. Not only does it show that you’re safe and can look after yourself and the passengers on your boat, but it also demonstrates that you’ll be able to operate your boat in a safe way around other anglers and people on the water.

Waterways are busy places, especially during the peak summer months, so you have to have your wits about you, and part of boat license courses includes boating safety to protect you and other people around you.

In the following guide to boat licenses, we’ll be covering:

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Getting a boat license is just the first step in the process. Finding some productive fishing locations to take your boat is the next step in landing some great fish. 

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Thanks to the Fishbox App, a premium Fishing App, you’ll know the best time to take your boat out fishing, and when your target species is most active, significantly improving your time spent out on your boat.

Detailed Age Requirements by State

Below, we have prepared a comprehensive state-by-state guide to boat license age requirements. Check through the table below to find your state and then the corresponding boat license age requirement.

StateMinimum Age Required For Boat License
Alabama Operator Minimum Age – 12
AlaskaOperator Minimum Age – 12
ArizonaOperator Minimum Age – 12
Arkansas Operator Minimum Age – 12
California Operator Minimum Age – 16
ColoradoOperator Minimum Age – 14
ConnecticutOperator Minimum Age – 12
DCOperator Minimum Age – 12
DelawareOperator Minimum Age – 14
FloridaOperator Minimum Age – 14
GeorgiaOperator Minimum Age – 16
HawaiiOperator Minimum Age – 15
IdahoDifferent Depending on the County
IllinoisOperator Minimum Age – 12
IndianaOperator Minimum Age – 15
IowaOperator Minimum Age – 12 
KansasOperator Minimum Age – 12
KentuckyOperator Minimum Age – 12
LouisianaOperator Minimum Age – 10
MaineOperator Minimum Age – 16
MarylandOperator Minimum Age – 12
Massachusetts     Operator Minimum Age – 12
MichiganOperator Minimum Age – 16
MinnesotaOperator Minimum Age – 12
MississippiOperator Minimum Age – 12
MissouriOperator Minimum Age – 16
MontanaOperator Minimum Age – 13
NebraskaOperator Minimum Age – 14
NevadaOperator Minimum Age – 14
New HampshireOperator Minimum Age – 15
New JerseyOperator Minimum Age – 13
New MexicoOperator Minimum Age – 13
New YorkOperator Minimum Age – 14
North CarolinaOperator Minimum Age – 14
North DakotaOperator Minimum Age – 12
OhioOperator Minimum Age – 12
OklahomaOperator Minimum Age – 12
OregonOperator Minimum Age – 16
PennsylvaniaOperator Minimum Age – 12
Rhode IslandOperator Minimum Age – Anyone born after 1986
South CarolinaOperator Minimum Age – 12
South DakotaOperator Minimum Age – 14
TennesseeOperator Minimum Age – 12
TexasOperator Minimum Age – 13
UtahOperator Minimum Age – 12
VermontOperator Minimum Age – 12
VirginiaOperator Minimum Age – 14
WashingtonOperator Minimum Age – 12
West VirginiaOperator Minimum Age – 12
WisconsinOperator Minimum Age – 16
WyomingOperator Minimum Age – 16
  • Please NoteCheck with your local state organization to ensure that regulations haven’t changed or for more detailed information.

Federal vs. State Regulations

Getting a boat license isn’t just about your safety or the safety of your passengers while you’re out on the water. It’s also about protecting other people on the water, including boat operators, anglers, divers, and recreational users who may also be out on the water.

Being a responsible boat operator involves understanding and following all state and federal boating rules and regulations while also being respectful to other users in your area. Most waterways are significant areas, but that doesn’t mean you have them all to yourself and can do whatever you like.

If you plan on operating a boat in the United States, it’s essential you learn the boating rules, and not just at a state level. There are both federal and state regulations and laws that govern what we do when we’re out on the water. 

Federal Boating Rules and Regulations and What They Cover

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a series of boating and navigation rules that are available online. Some federal boating laws include:

  • Navigation and Right of Way.
  • Navigation Aids.
  • Boat Documentation.
  • Boat Safety Equipment Requirements.
  • Communication and Emergency Notification.
  • Pollution Regulations.

State Boating Rules and Regulations and What They Cover

State boating rules are specific to each state. However, some states may have the same or similar regulations and rules which cross over. If you’re planning on taking your boat out on the water, it’s essential to understand the state rules and regulations. Please note that rules and regulations are subject to change, so check with your state body before going boating for any changes or updates. Some state-specific boating laws include:

  • Boater Education.
  • Boat Operator Age.
  • Boat Registration Requirements.
  • Personal Floatation Device (PFD) Regulations.
  • Operating A Vessel Under the Influence.
  • Insurance Regulations.
  • Specific State Waterway Rules and Regulations.

Checking the weather, conditions, and boating rules and regulations before you head out on the water is a great idea, even if you’re an experienced boat operator. While you’re out on the water, be respectful to other boaters, swimmers, divers, and recreators. It’s a great way to set a positive example for younger people who will be the next generation of boaters.

How to Obtain a Boating License

In most states, boat license courses or boating education courses are offered by 3rd party operators, and there will be a small fee associated with doing your boat safety or boat operator course. 

How you attend the boat license or boat safety course will vary from state to state, with both online boat license courses and in-person courses. Most online courses give you the flexibility to complete them at your own pace and at a time that is convenient to you. Typically, boat license courses are broken up into different chapters with small reviews or tests that you’ll need to complete before you move on to the next section or chapter.

The point of boat license courses isn’t to fail as many people as possible but to educate new and existing boat operators about current safety regulations, navigation laws, and best practices.

Boat license ages vary widely from state to state, so be sure to check out the table above for the age requirements in your state. Many states also recognize boat licenses from other states, but ultimately, it’s up to you, as the owner or operator of the boat, to check the regulations before you take out the boat.

Boat License Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Do you need a boat license to operate a boat?

Each state is different, with some states setting age requirements on boat licenses while others require all operators to be fully licensed.

2. Do you need a boat license to operate a rental boat?

Each state is different in regard to how they manage boat rentals, with some states setting age requirements on boat licenses while others require all operators to be fully licensed.

3. How much is a boat license?

In most states, a boat license or boater safety course will cost between $20-60, but each state varies in how much they charge for a boat license.

4. Does a boat license expire?

You will need to check with your state about license expiry dates and whether or not you need to redo your boat license after a set period of time.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Boating License? A Comprehensive Guide – Conclusion

Hopefully, thanks to the comprehensive and up-to-date information in the boat license guide above, you’ll know everything you need to know in order to get your boat license. Once you have your license and a boat, you’ll be ready to get out in the water in your local area and start landing some fantastic fish!

While you’re out on the water, particularly during peak times, always be aware of other boaters and people using the water. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and leading by example is an excellent way to show younger people the right and wrong way to operate a boat.

Get your personalized fishing map

Answer a quick quiz and get your own personalized fishing map

Thanks to the state-of-the-art technology in the Fishbox App, you’ll be able to accurately track weather conditions before you go out boating and predict the best times to hit the water when you’re planning your next boat trip. The Fishbox App combines predictive fish behavior with the weather, lunar, and tidal conditions to deliver optimal fishing opportunities for both fresh and saltwater anglers.

The Fishbox App was developed in collaboration with accurate weather data and expert fish behavioral analysis. These advanced forecasts will significantly increase your catch rate while reducing your time on the water. Take your fishing to the next level thanks to the expert advice from the Fishbox App team.

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