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Most states have mandatory boater safety education requirements. To meet these standards, completion of an approved safety course is usually necessary. Generally, these courses can be taken online or in a traditional classroom. Many of the programs require that participants pass an exam at the end of instruction, demonstrating a minimum understanding of the material.
The term boating license is sometimes used to describe the certificate or card issued when successful completion of a boating safety course is achieved. Calling these cards a boating license can be misleading, as very few states actually require a license to operate watercraft. In some states, the term boating license refers to the paperwork issued when a boat is registered.
In states where an actual boating license is mandatory to operate watercraft, it is usually in addition to a boating safety certificate. A boating license is issued by the state’s motor vehicle regulatory department, as opposed to a boater safety card, which is awarded by various state agencies tasked with regulating boating safety. If a state does require an additional boating license, it is awarded separately from the safety certificate. Alabama is the only state where an actual endorsement on a driver’s license is mandatory to operate a boat.
A boating safety card differs from an actual boating license in that it generally does not expire and can not be revoked. Obtaining one does not necessitate driving or operating a boat satisfactorily. They are acquired by demonstrating a basic understanding of watercraft safety. Completion of a watercraft safety course can reduce a boat owner’s insurance rates, even if not required to operate the craft.
Minimum age requirements vary from state to state and can be different depending on the type of watercraft being operated. Sometimes, personal watercraft and boat requirements are different. The size of the boat to be operated can be a determining factor in the operator’s minimum age. Generally, the larger and faster a watercraft, the higher the standards required to operate it.
A boating license, and a boater’s safety card, are commonly accepted state to state. The exceptions to this rule are Connecticut, Utah and Colorado where out of state certificates have certain restrictions. Boating safety is regulated by various state agencies, so individual state requirements differ significantly.