13th Mar 2018 by Rightboat

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

In previous articles we’ve considered the question do you need a boat licence to sail a boat in the UK and in Europe? In this guide we’ll look at whether you need a licence to sail a boat in the USA.

Boat licensing in the USA is not as clear cut as in the UK and Europe. Some states have mandatory boat licences whilst others do not.

 

States by State Legal Requirements

At present, there are eight states with no legal requirement for sailing licences. These are as follows:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Wyoming
  • South Dakota
  • Maine
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas

Each of the other States not in the above list 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. For example, Kentucky, Iowa and Illinois all require any sailor aged between 12 and 17 who wishes to sail a motorboat without adult supervision, to complete a mandatory safety course. Some states have requirement that sailors born after a certain date must receive boating certification such as Maryland, where if you were born after 30th June 1972, you must have a certificate of boating safety education.

In Alabama, anyone at least 40 years of age by 28th April 1994 is free to sail without any form of licence whilst in Delaware a licence is required for those born after 1st January 1978. Georgia requires anyone aged between 12 and 15 to have a licence whilst in Mississippi a licence is required for those born after 29th June 1980. Connecticut requires a Safe Boating Certificate (SBC) for motorised boats or sailboats longer than 19.5 feet whilst in Kansas a boater education card is required for those born after 1st January 1989. In short, most states have a minimum age requirement for those wishing to sail unlicensed although states such as New Hampshire regulate by horsepower of the craft, 25hp or more requiring licensing rather than by age. The full list of state requirements is listed as follows:

 

  • Alaska: No legal requirements
  • Arizona: No legal requirements
  • Arkansas: Those born after December 31, 1985 must complete a safety course.
  • California: No legal requirements
  • Colorado: 14- and 15-year-olds must pass a safety course.
  • Connecticut: You must obtain a Safe Boating Certificate (SBC) for motorized boats or sailboats longer than 19 1/2 feet.
  • Florida: Those younger than 22 need a Boating Safety Education ID Card.
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho: No legal requirements
  • Illinois: Operators aged 12 to 17 must take a safety course.
  • Indiana: The minimum age is 15 and operators under 17 years old are required to take a safety course.
  • Iowa: Operators aged 12 to 17 must take a safety course.
  • Kansas: Those born after January 1, 1989, need to have a boater education card.
  • Kentucky: Operators aged 12 to 17 must take a safety course.
  • Louisiana: Those born after January 1, 1988 need a boater education card.
  • Maine: No legal requirements
  • Maryland: Those born after June 30, 1972 must have a certificate of boating safety education.
  • Massachusetts: Teen operators must have a boating safety certificate.
  • Michigan: Those born after December 31, 1978 must have a boating safety certificate.
  • Minnesota: Operators aged 12 to 17 must take a safety course.
  • Missouri: Those born after January 1, 1984 must have a boater certification card.
  • Montana: 13- and 14-year-olds need a safety certificate.
  • Nebraska: No legal requirements
  • Nevada: Those born after January 1, 1983 must complete a boating education course.
  • New Hampshire: Anyone over age 16 who drives a boat with 25 horsepower or more must complete the Department of Safety's Boating Education Course.
  • New Jersey: Anyone 13 years old or older must have a Boating Safety Certificate.
  • New Mexico: Anyone born on or after January 1, 1989 must complete a boat safety course.
  • New York: Teen operators must pass a safety course.
  • North Carolina: 14- to 16-year-olds must complete a safety course.
  • North Dakota: Operators aged 12 to 15 must take a safety course.
  • Ohio: Anyone born after January 1, 1982 must take a safety course.
  • Oklahoma: Kids aged 12 to 16 must take a safety course.
  • Oregon: Teenagers (older than 12) and anyone operating a boat over 10 horsepower must pass a safety course.
  • Pennsylvania: Anyone riding a personal watercraft (Jet Ski) or anyone born after January 1, 1982 who wants to operate a motorboat over 25 horsepower must pass a safety course.
  • Rhode Island: Anyone riding a personal watercraft (Jet Ski) or anyone born after January 1, 1986 must pass a safety course.
  • South Carolina: Boaters younger than 16 must pass a safety course.
  • South Dakota: No legal requirements
  • Tennessee: Anyone born after January 1, 1989 must pass a safety course.
  • Texas: Those born after September 1, 1984 and those under 18 must pass a safety course.
  • Utah: Boaters between 12 and 17 must pass Utah's Personal Watercraft Education Course.
  • Vermont: Those born after January 1, 1974 must pass a safety course.
  • Virginia: Boaters under age 21 must pass a course until 2016, when all boaters must pass the course.
  • Washington: Operators under 25 must have a Washington Boater Education card.
  • West Virginia: Those born after December 31, 1986 must complete a boater education course.
  • Wisconsin: Those born on or after January 1, 1989 must pass a course.
  • Wyoming: Operators must be at least 16 years old.
  • Washington D.C.: All operators must have a boating safety certificate.[1]

 

United States Coast Guard Captain’s Licence (USCG)


In many cases of recreational sailing, the USCG is not a legal requirement. However, it remains a popular qualification for sailors wishing to improve their sailing knowledge, in particular regarding maritime rules and regulations. For sailing instructors, the qualification is usually essential due to strict rules relating to carrying passengers, skippering for hire and the types of boats involved.

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, hence being colloquially known as the “6-Pack Licence”. This entails the sailor logging 360 days since your 16th birthday on the water. A “day” is considered to be at least 4 hours on the water. 12 hours can be logged as 1.5 days. Knowledge of seamanship, rules and regulations, navigation, etc must also meet the minimum requirements and are formally tested. Whilst by no means an easy task, once completed the sailor will have the right to be officially called “Captain”.  

For further information please refer to the American Sailing Association (ASA). 


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