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Just what is a boating license, anyway?

As an industry, boating hasn’t been as regulated as many others, such as the automotive industry. But it’s beginning to see elements of change, particularly since many states now require boat operators under the age of 18 to complete a safe boater’s course. But kids aren’t the only group required to pass this course to obtain a boating license: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, and Mississippi now require adults to do the same.

Boating safety course

Taking a safety course teaches students different elements of boating. A lot of time is spent covering very important rules of the water. For example, navigation basics, such as how to read a nautical chart and plot a course with a compass, provide backup fundamentals in the event that your GPS fails. Other topics covered range from learning how to properly communicate with your marine radio to how to navigate in foul-weather conditions. This newly gained knowledge can help prevent future boating accidents. In most instances, discounts are offered on boat insurance, too.

Boating license

Just to be clear, boaters in some states will need a boating license, in addition to their boat registration. The difference between the two is simple. A boating license is earned when a person successfully completes a course of study that teaches how to properly operate a boat. A boat registration tracks ownership of a boat, from its date of manufacture to the present. Check with your specific state rules, but in most instances, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and even small sailboats aren’t required to be registered; motorized boats, commercial vessels, and large sailboats are. For a long time, personal watercraft (like Jet Skis or Wetbikes) didn’t need a registration, but many states have changed their position and require them to be registered now. To renew your registration, you can head to the licensing office or register your boat online; be sure to bring along proof of ownership, a bill of sale, proof of payment of state sales tax, along with the appropriate registration and title fees.

If your state requires your kids to take a safe-boating class, you should join them. It’s a great, shared experience that will carry over to when you splash for the season. And who knows, maybe you’ll pick up a few new pointers, as well.