Home Join ABA About As Advertise with us! Search Site Map
Shape boat

ABA Boater Education Program

 Boater Education Requirements/Laws

Boater education prevents accidents and saves lives. Whether or not their state requires it, all boaters have a responsibility to learn about boat operation, communications, navigation, and life-saving techniques before taking to the water. Statistics bear out what logic suggests—those without boater education put themselves and others at risk.

Of the approximately 7,700 accidents reported each year, the U.S. Coast Guard found that nearly 70 percent are caused by operator error as opposed to boat or environmental factors. (Estimates suggest less than 10% of minor boating accidents are reported.) Not only do incompetent boaters cause more accidents, the accidents they cause are more severe. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), boating fatalities are second only to highway fatalities. Sadly, more than 80 percent of recreational boat operators involved in fatal boating accidents have not taken any type of boater education course. An untrained boater would likely not know the proper steps to take in a life-threatening situation, such as capsizing/man overboard, fire, sinking/flooding, or collision.

The lack of education in personal watercraft operators is a cause for concern as well; a 1997 study estimated that 84% of PWC operators (including renters) had received no boating instruction whatsoever. PWC injuries account for 36% of all reported boating injuries.

With 12.7 million boats registered in the U.S., Steve Hall, president of the National State Boating Law Administrators and boating law administrator for Rhode Island recognizes, "The waterways are increasingly more congested and operators must know the rules of the water to have a safe and enjoyable day boating. If boaters would learn and practice safe boating tactics, the number of accidents would be greatly reduced."

Many organizations offer a variety of boater education courses in a variety of formats (including on-line, video, and classroom). Here are just a few:

Boating Education May Lower Your Insurance Premiums

In the 1990s, the NTSB placed boating safety on its "10 Most Wanted List" for safety improvements, and put forth several recommendations focused on reducing the number and severity of boating accidents. The recommendations regarding education included implementing minimum standards for demonstrating operator knowledge of safety boating rules and skills, and requiring PWC rental businesses to provide safety instruction training to customers.

In the past few years, numerous states have enacted legislation along these lines, and more changes are in the works. Yet still, many states have no educational requirements for boaters. If there are educational standards and age limits for driving an automobile and piloting a plane, why not have standards for operating a boat?

State Boating Requirements/Laws

The Reference Guide to State Boating Laws answers a number of questions related to recreational boating safety public law. Topics covered include boating education, operator age, water skiing, boat noise, numbering & titling, personal watercraft, boating under the influence, personal flotation devices and more.

The data in the guide was supplied by the states and collectively updated during 2007. Data can also be updated by boating law administrators (or designates) for the individual states.

The information is subject to change at any time and facts should be verified with the BLAs if there are any questions. Information contained here is believed to be correct but is not intended to provide a legal opinion.

To access the data, click on the link for your state. To view an overview of the boating education requirements for all states, click here.

For an interactive map of boating laws and regulations by state, click here.

Source: The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators

State  Who is required to complete a boating education course
Alabama In general, anyone 12 years old or older who operates a vessel on state waters.
Alaska No requirement.
American Samoa PWC operators 18 and under.
Arizona Only volunteer boating safety education instructors for the agency.

Anyone born on or after January 1, 1986.

California As of January 1, 2021, California law requires all boaters 40 years of age or younger to carry the California Boater Card. All boaters regardless of age are required to obtain the card by 2025.
Colorado As of Jan. 1, 1998, anyone operating motorboats -- any vessel propelled by machinery, including personal watercraft B on Colorado waters must be at least 16 years old. Teens 14 and 15 years old can operate a motorboat if they first complete a state approved boating safety course.
Connecticut All residents or owners of real property or anyone wishing to boat more than 60 days a year.
Delaware Any person born on or after January 1, 1978.
District of Columbia Anyone operating a vessel on District of Columbia waterways is required to have a Boating Safety Certificate. The Boating Safety Certificate is issued to individuals who successfully complete the Boating Safety course.
Florida A person who was born on or after January 1, 1988, must have completed a boater education course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) or passed an approved equivalency exam to operate a vessel powered by a motor of 10 horsepower or greater (including PWCs).
Georgia Age 12 to 15 to operate certain vessels on their own.
Guam No requirement.
Hawaii All operators of PWCs.
Idaho People renting a PWC, boat operators convicted of OUI, repeat offenders of boating laws.
Illinois Persons at least 12 years old and less than 18 years old, if they wish to operate a motorboat by themselves.
Indiana All vessel operators are required to possess a valid driver's license with exception of 15 year olds who have taken and passed a boater education course and possesses an Indiana Indentification card.
Iowa 12 through 17 year olds who operate a motorboat over 10 h.p. or a PWC.
Kansas Anyone born on or after January 1, 1989 and under 21 years of age regardless of date of birth.
Kentucky Safe Boating Certification is mandatory for children from 12 through 17 years old.
Louisiana Under the age of 16.
Maine 16 and 17 year olds who will operate a Personal Watercraft (PWC).
Maryland Anyone born on or after July 1, 1972 who is operating a motorized vessel on MD waters must have a valid certificate of boating safety education.
Massachusetts Any person of at least 12 years of age and less than 16 years of age, operating a motorboat without adult supervision. PWC users 16 and 17 years of age. (PWCs cannot be operated by youth less than 16 years of age).

Those less than 12 years of age: May operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 horsepower (hp) legally without restrictions. May operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 hp but no more than 35 hp legally only if they are directly supervised on board by a person at least 16 years of age. May not operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 35 hp legally under any conditions. Those 12 to 15 years of age: May operate a boat powered by a motor of no more than 6 hp legally without restrictions. May operate a boat powered by a motor of more than 6 hp legally only if they: Have passed a boating safety course approved by the Department of Natural Resources and have on board their boating safety certificate or ... Are accompanied on board by a person at least 16 years of age.

Minnesota Ages 12 - 17 to operate a motorboat over 25 hp.
Mississippi Persons born after June 30, 1980.
Missouri Any person born after January 1, 1984.
Montana Youth 13 and 14 years of age must either complete a boating education course or be accompanied by an adult in order to operate a motorboat or PWC with a motor greater than 10 horsepower.
Nebraska All motorboat operators 14 to 18.
Nevada Persons born on or after January 1, 1983 will be required to complete an approved boater education course. This applies only to those operating a vessel with a motor larger than 15 hp on Nevada's interstate waters.
New Hampshire Everyone 16 years of age or older operating a vessel over 25 horsepower.
New Jersey All power vessel operators, regardless of DOB.
New Mexico Those born on or after January 1, 1989.
New York

Motorboats - Any individuals born on or after 5/1/96 are now required to successfully complete an approved course in boater education in order to operate a motorboat. Approved courses include those offered by NYS Parks, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadron. Individuals less than 10 years of age may not take this course of instruction.

Personal Watercraft - Operators may not operate a Personal Watercraft (JetSki, SeaDoo, etc.) unless they are at least 14 years of age and hold a boater safety certificate issued by State Parks, the USCG Auxiliary or the US Power Squadron for having completed a an 8-hour classroom based course of instruction.

A person without a safety certificate may operate a PWC when accompanied by someone over 18 years of age who is the holder of a boater safety certificate. For the purposes of this section, "accompanied" shall mean upon the same PWC.

North Carolina PWC operators between 14 and 16 years of age if they want to operate on their own .
North Dakota No person of twelve through fifteen years of age may operate a motorboat (includes personal watercraft, i.e. Jet skis, etc.) propelled by over a ten horsepower motor unless the operator is accompanied by a person eighteen years of age or older or the operator has taken and passed a boating course approved by the Department.
N Mariana Islands All
Ohio Anyone born on or after January 1, 1982 who operates a powerboat grater than 10 horsepower.
Oklahoma All persons from 12 to less than 16 years of age.
Oregon Boaters 12 and older operating a motorboat greater than 10 horsepower.

Operators born on or after January 1, 1982 to operate motorboats greater than 25 horsepower and all operators of PWC.

Puerto Rico Anyone born after July 1, 1972.
Rhode Island All PWC operators and anyone born after January 1, 1986 operating a vessel powered by an engine of ten (10) or more horsepower.
South Carolina Persons younger than 16 years of age that operate a boat powered by 15 horsepower engine or greater by themselves.
South Dakota No requirement
Tennessee TN resident born after January 1, 1989 must pass a proctored exam.
Texas Operators between ages 13-17 years.
Utah Personal Watercraft operators 12 through 17 years old.
Vermont Any person born on or after January 1, 1974.
Virginia Beginning July 1, 2009 compliance with boating safety education will be phased in according to age category.
Virgin Islands No requirement.

Operators of motorboats with 15 horsepower or greater, must be 12 years of age or older. Is being phased in beginning January 2008 starting with 12 to 20 year olds and increasing age each year until fully implemented in 2014.

West Virginia Anyone born after December 31, 1986.
Wisconsin Anyone born on or after January 1, 1989 and who is at least 16 years old.
Wyoming No requirement.

Requirements for Foreign Recreational Boaters in Canadian Waters

Boating safety should be a concern for everyone on the water. Regardless of whether or not your state requires boater education, regardless of whether you're a boat owner or are just "along for the ride", education in boat operation, navigation, and life-saving skills is important in both preventing accidents, and minimizing them if they occur.

Other Boat Education Resources:


The American Boating Association
PO Box 1597
Ocean View, DE 19970
Tel: 614-497-4088

Office hours M - F, 8:30am - 5:00pm EST
Our Privacy Policy
©American Boating Association 2020