Boating regulations vary by state, so there’s no hard answer about how old you have to be to drive a boat. However, states that specify a minimum age generally set it between 12 and 14 — several years lower than the minimum age to get a driver’s license.
In states with clear age requirements, some require a boating license and others require a safety certificate showing that the pilot has completed a recognized safety course. You can find a state-by-state summary of boater education requirements and links to individual state boating education laws through the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.
Minimum boating license age by type of boat
Many states have different boat licensing ages or minimum age requirements for operating a powerboat depending on the type of craft. For example, a state might not establish a minimum age for boats with motors of 6hp or less, have a different minimum for boats 6 to 35hp or prohibit minors from operating boats with more powerful motors. Because of the complexity of boat license age requirements, it’s best to check with your local government directly.
Tips for teens or first-time boat operators
Whatever the minimum age required to operate a powerboat or sailboat in your area, it’s vital for young boaters to:
- Learn how to drive a boat safely and follow boating etiquette
- Understand rules about life jackets and required boat safety equipment, and other
- Fundamental safety procedures like what to do if you are stranded on the water, especially if your state allows minors to go boating without adult supervision
- Understand safety procedures like what to do if you are stranded on the water
- Know the boat safety laws in your state
- Know how to swim in open water with currents, undertow, and changing weather
If your state doesn’t impose minimum education requirements or a minimum age to operate a powerboat, consider setting them yourself. Think about your child’s attitude, level of responsibility, and difficulty managing and operating the type of boat you own. Encourage your child to enroll in a boating safety course or, even better, enroll the whole family to take one together. In addition to making you safer boaters, taking a safety course may qualify you for boat insurance discounts with some providers.
Other considerations for boating license age
Boating can be a great way to bond as a family and teach youngsters the value of personal responsibility. If you feel your child or teen is ready to pilot a boat — and meets your state’s legal requirements, including boat license and age laws — talk to them about what to do if something happens and they need to report a boating accident.
Adding a new pilot to your crew can be a good opportunity to review your boat insurance. If the new boat operator is a teen, you may want to consider having your teen take a boating safety course and discussing how your boat insurance works and what it covers.