Can I legally drive a boat in my state?

Few feelings can be worse than when you are finally ready to carefully place that freshly bought boat in the water only to see a sign posted that a certain permit, license, or approval is necessary for you legally set sail. The first step before you make any purchase is to check the legal regulations in both your county and state regarding boat laws. There is a lot of variation from place to place and the last thing you want is not to be unable to drive that nice new boat, but also have to pay a big ticket along with it.

1. Size

This is one of the biggest factors that determine whether or not you can legally captain a boat. Most small boats like your kayaks or paddle boats naturally don’t require any special certification. But once you start getting into the “yacht territory” on size or more than twenty feet, you likely will need to attend some training.

2. What's Powering the Boat: Motor or Sail

This is the one area where you may have an exception on size. Sailing vessels are generally exempt from typical regulations as they are only powered by the wind are limited in their speed. Motorboats, on the other hand, fall into a totally different category and even small vessels may require a permit.

3. Horsepower

Horsepower is another common factor. A small fishing boat with an outboard motor will likely be fine, but once you get into the hundred horsepower or more range, you will again likely need to apply for a permit.

4. Your Age

Each state varies with the age you can pilot a boat as well as size as what size vessels you might be able to drive. Many states, for example, do not set an age limit on smaller boats although obviously, common sense applies. Often states permit that the same age you can drive is that same you can pilot a small vessel whereas larger ships may require you to be at least 18 years of age.

5. What You Need for a Captain’s License

If you are interested in any kind of serious boating, you definitely should consider getting certification. Regardless of whether you can legally captain any size vessel or not in your given state, it is also an excellent opportunity for you to be sure you have the training necessary to safely captain a ship. You can check the requirements for your state here. Generally, you will need a license, photo ID and be able to pass a boating safety test. Some states may even require you to pass a driving course as well. Whatever it is, make sure you have everything you need so that you can be the captain on the adventure of your dreams!


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