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Do I need a license to drive or sail a boat?

It’s probably one of the first questions you’ll ask when you’re considering buying a boat, and the simple answer is that there isn’t a strictly speaking a ‘boat license’ which tests competency in the same way as a car license does.

However, certain waterways and circumstances will require a variety of permits and licenses. And, as with most things, the requirements are different from country to country.

Based in Canada, International Yacht Training Worldwide (IYT) is an independent sailing and boating training organisation which offers recreational and professional courses all over the world. They are the largest organisation of their kind and have been endorsed by the world’s leading regulatory authorities. You’ll find over 250 schools in 56 countries using the IYT curriculum. 

When it comes specifically to motorboats, in the UK the RYA offers the well-known and valuable Powerboat training courses which offer a sound grounding in theory and practical. The Powerboat Level 1 and RYA Powerboat Level 2 are the entry-level courses and these can be followed by the more comprehensive Intermediate and Advanced powerboat courses. The Powerboat Level 1 is a one day course that gives you hands-on training in boat handling and safety, while Advanced course covers everything from handling to seamanship, Pilotage, navigation, night cruising, and tidal waters.


Do I need a license to drive a boat in the US?

Boat licensing in the USA is not as clear-cut as in the UK and Europe, and some states have mandatory boat licences whilst others do not. States such as Alaska, California, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Maine, Arizona, and Arkansas have no legal requirements to operate a boat. All the other states have unique and individual licensing requirements and rules.

Only a small handful of states currently require an official licence to sail, however, most will require the sailor to have undergone some type of boating safety course. Check this Who’s the Greatest Modern-Day Sailor?

The United States Coast Guard Captain’s Licence (USCG) is not a legal requirement in most cases, it remains a popular qualification for sailors wishing to improve their sailing knowledge, in particular regarding maritime rules and regulations. The most common type of licence is called the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV). This allows the licensee to operate a vessel of 100 tons or less with up to six passengers on board. Full details can be found on the American Sailing Association (ASA).


Do I need a license to drive a boat in the UK or Europe?

The UK has minimal legal formal requirements for boating licenses and qualifications to sail.

You may be buying a sailing dinghy, yacht, motor sailor or classic yacht.  Refer to The Royal Yachting Association (RYA), the UK’s national governing body, advocate of the adopt the ethos of ‘educate not legislate’. Having said that, whilst offshore sailing regulations do not require a license, to sail on any inland waterways in the UK you’ll need one. To get a boat licence you need a boat safety scheme certificate (BSSC) and boat insurance. See Also RYA Advanced Pilotage.

The BSSC is part of a public safety initiative owned by the Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency and aims to help minimise the risk of boat fires, explosions, and pollution of the waterways, and boats must renew every four years. Armed with your BSSC and insurance you can get a license from the Canal and River Trust or the Environment Agency which are valid for fixed periods of time ranging from 30 days to one year.

Although you don’t need a formal licence to sail offshore in UK waters, many insurance companies may have their own minimum expectation of a sailor’s experience, especially on larger vessels. The RYA Day Skipper qualification is a good starting point and leads on to the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate.  Ship’s Radio Licence is a legal requirement for all craft, including private pleasure craft, equipped with VHF or long-range radio transceivers. This includes handheld VHFs, satellite communication equipment, EPIRBs and SARTS. The licence is issued free by Ofcom and lasts for ten years.

A Short Range Radio Operator’s Licence is a legal requirement for anyone operating a marine VHF radio, including longer-range Medium and High-Frequency set.


The RYA’s Short Range Marine Radio Course covers all aspects.

If you’re planning on sailing European waters, then you’ll need an International Certificate of Competence (ICC). The ICC assessment can be undertaken in a day and covers topics such as boating regulations, signals, safety, navigation, pilotage, mooring, and maintenance.

You May Also Like ...

1. EUROPE: Do You Need a Licence to Sail a Boat?

2. USA: Do You Need a Licence to Sail a Boat?

3. UK: Do You Need a License to Sail a Boat?

4. Top 6 Sailing Safety Tips

5. Sailing Around the World: The Nuts and Bolts of Making the Dream a Reality

6. How to Get into Sailing: A Beginner’s Guide

7. The Top 10 UK Sailing Location You Must Visit This Year

Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

More from: Samantha Wilson

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