Boating licences in the USA? It’s a non-event

Alabama, the first state in the USA to demand boating licences remains the only state to do so.

Thirty-nine US states offer boating education in public schools with statstics revealing that 'hundreds of thousands' of students have benefited since 1994.


About 20-years ago, I recall writing a piece related to the US state of Alabama becoming the first state in the US to bring in boating licences.There may have been a price increase since then, but I recall being astonished at the cost – it was US$5.00……for life!

I checked the situation out on a recent visit to the USA and I can tell you now that nothing has changed in that Alabama remains the only US state (or territory) requiring a licence to drive a power boat.

However, a number of states require some form of education; the majority of states require a boating safety certificate course must be undertaken to operate a powered vessel, but it is age related, and not required by adults.

39 states have set a minimum age of 17-years to operate a powered vessel.

Seventeen states have no age requirement at all.

The most common age requirement is set at 12-years-of-age, accepted in 20 states.

Lowest age requirement, 10-years, has been set by Illinois and Wisconsin, while the territory of American Samoa sets the highest age, 18-years.

Thirty-nine states offer boating education in public schools (wouldn’t that be great here!).
The latest statistics reveal that 'hundreds and thousands' of students have become certified since the program began in 1994.

Alabama, Michigan, Missouri and Florida are the leading states when it comes to public school boating education.
The certificate courses are run by US Coast Guard Auxiliary, US Power Squadrons, Water Police units and even Wild Life and Fishing agencies.

Many states (33 at last count) demand that an adult be on board when a minor is at the wheel of a powered vessel.

Of the 17 states that do not require a minimum operating age, 12 do not even have provision requiring an adult on board when a minor is at the wheel.

The most liberal areas for power boating, with no licence required, no age restriction, no demand for an adult on board, no restrictions, age or otherwise, to operate a personal water craft are Alaska and the territory of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific.

There it’s a case of ‘go for your life.’

All states and territories, however, become a little stricter when it comes to water skiing.

Fifty five states and territories demand an observer or a rear vision mirror, only the Northern Mariana Islands requiring neither.

The vast majority prohibit water skiing between dusk and dawn and 41 require skiers to wear personal flotation jackets.

Tubing, kite sailing and parasailing have increased in popularity in the US (as they have here) and a few states have acted to place certain restrictions on these activities.

Generally, however, specific laws have not been adopted.

Somewhat surprisingly, only eight states specifically prohibit water skiing while intoxicated!

The US boating industry’s peak body, the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has no desire to see boating licences required nationally, its thinking being along the lines of ‘don’t make boating seem too hard’.

Like our own situation here in Australia, it’s really a state matter and like the US our states have differing views and structure.

For the time being, at least, I guess we leave well enough alone.