Boater safety and education programs
There are several answers to this question: Probably, Yes, and It is not a license. 36 states have mandated Boater Safety Education Programs for the recreational boater and PWC (Personal Water Craft) operators. Knowing the rules of the waterways is the safest way to boat. Technically it is a certificate and not a license. There are several ways to obtain a certificate and learn about boat safety.
Does my State have a Boater’s Safety Education Program, and is it required?
Over 70% of the U.S. requires a Boater Safety Education Card to operate recreational boats and PWCs. States that mandate the successful completion of the course issue a card. This card must be on board the vessel and available for inspection upon request by enforcement officers. State that requires the Boaters Education care can issue a fine if you cannot produce the card on the spot.
The requirements to obtain that card vary from state to state. There are plenty of ways to determine if your state requires a Boater Education Program and how/where to take it. Most people are familiar with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Boater Safety Course. BoatUS and Boat-ed are just two recreational boater organizations that provide information and links. See the links below. Virginia, New York, and California are a few of the states that have free online courses. Boat U.S. Foundation has a complete list of the free online courses recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard and is NASBLA approved. Connecticut and other states require the course to be successfully completed in a classroom setting. U.S. Coast Guard Auxilary and Power Squadrons or a certified state instructor hold in person and Zoom classes. Visit your state government’s website or call their office to get the most up to date information.
States that mandate the boater safety education will accept a Boater’s Safety Education card from other states that mandate it. The National Association of State Boating Law Administrations (NASBLA) is the organization that monitors these programs and allows for the reciprocity between states. This is the national 501(C) organization representing recreational boater safety in the U.S. They want boat operators to be safe and have fun. Part of this is standardizing the boating rules and regulations throughout all the U.S. and U.S. territories.
My State does not require a Boater’s Safety Education Program. Do I still need one to boat?
Boating is considered a relaxing activity. Part of relaxing is knowing the rules and regulations to keep your experience pleasant and avoid the harrowing. Think of it this way – when you learn to drive, it isn’t just how to operate the car; it is the rules you learn to keep you safe. What side of the road to drive on, how to read road signs, who has the right of way, etc.… A recent article by the American Boating Association reported
“According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), boating fatalities are second only to highway fatalities. … more than 80 percent of recreational boat operators involved in fatal boating accidents have not taken any type of boater education course.” (State Boating Laws and Boating Education Requirements …. https://americanboating.org/boateducation.asp?source=overture)
The more you know, the more you are prepared to avoid a dangerous situation or adequately handle a hazardous situation. Accidents are called “accidents” for a reason. Taking a boating safety course is a smart decision even when it is not required (yet) by your state.
Is it a Boater’s License, Card, or Certificate?
You are issued a certificate of completion and a card after successfully finishing the boater safety education program. The card must be on the vessel and available when operating a boat or PWC, or you risk a fine. The card does not have an expiration date. A license has an expiration date with requirements to renew. Therefore it is a Boater’s Safety Education Card that proves you successfully completed the course.
Is Continuing or Additional Education Required for Boating?
The short answer is no. Continuing Boater Safety Education is not mandated. The smart answer is yes. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) tracks new recreational boat sales. They report this is the eighth consecutive year of growth, and it is still going strong.
“retail unit sales of new powerboats were up an estimated 4 percent in 2018 to approximately 280,000 units, the highest total since 2007. The outlook for 2019 remains positive, with continued growth expected to bring a 3-4 percent increase.” (U.S. Recreational Boating Industry Sees Seventh …. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20190110005188/en/U.S.-Recreational-Boating-Industry-Sees-Seventh-Consecutive)
With more and more families adding boating to their activity list, more boats are on the water. The U.S. Power Squadron and other boating associations offer classes, continuing education courses online, and more. Laws change, and the best way to keep informed is through continuing education.
Does the Boater’s Safety Program Teach Me to Operate a Powerboat or PWC?
The program teaches you the safety of starting, operating, and docking your powerboat or PWC. The courses do not require that you effectively demonstrate this. It is like taking the driver’s license paper test and never having to pass the driver’s license vehicle operator test. There are some companies out there that will do hands-on training on your boat or theirs. Carefree Boat Club offers one on one on-the-water training with their certified trainers.