Do you need a boating license in your state or another state?

So you’ve just bought a new or used boat. If you are completely new to boating, you likely have a number of questions. If you bought the boat from a ship dealer, they can answer most of your questions. If you bought it from a private seller, don’t rely on that person to know what to do. Here are answers to questions most newbies ask:

Do you need a boat license?

Could be. But first make sure that it is a boat (and trailer) of any value. As with a car, you want to take care of it before you leave the shop.

If your boat is powered by a motor (including a rowboat or kayak that is powered by an electric motor), you must register your boat in the state in which you live. Some states (such as Pennsylvania) require all boats to be registered, whether or not they have power.

Registration differs from a boat license and, like a car, has to be renewed annually. First, do a search on your state name and “boat registration” and make sure you have the old seller’s title as well as a sales contract.

A boating license is a one-time requirement. You may have purchased one in the past, or you can purchase it before you ever buy a boat.

Do you need a boating license if you have completed a boat safety course?

This is where confusion arises. It is not a boating license in itself. In most states, you must take and successfully complete a boating safety course in order to operate a boat. When you have completed the course, you will receive a certificate (ie the “license”). That makes you legal. If the course is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard, the course will be good for life and will qualify you even if you move to another state.

Some states may not require you to take such a course or the requirement may only apply to people of a certain age. Find out where to take such a course and what is required to operate a powerboat in your state. Online and in-person courses are available.

Do you need a boating license to operate someone else’s boat?

Or does your spouse or child need one to operate your boat? It depends on the state you are in. The answer is yes for many states, but may only be for young operators in others.

Do you need a boating license when going to another state with your boat?

That depends on the laws of the other state. While each state recognizes a different state’s registration, you must follow regulations for operating a boat, which may differ from the regulations in your home state. When you have a certificate from a boat safety training course, you can operate your boat (or someone else’s). However, you will need a fishing license from that state in order to fish.


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