With more people than ever taking advantage of the outdoors since the onset of the pandemic, boat ownership and usage has sky-rocketed. According to a January 2021 report by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), who represents North American recreational boat, engine and marine accessory manufacturers, “…retail unit sales of new powerboats in the U.S. increased [in 2020] by an estimated 12 percent compared to 2019. More than 310,000 new powerboats were sold in 2020, levels the recreational boating industry has not seen since before the Great Recession in 2008.”
This means that there are literally several hundred thousand new boat owners taking to the ponds, lakes, rivers and seas this year. But as those of us who have been boating for some time already know, you can’t (legally) just buy a boat and start enjoying the boating life in most states. While not governed quite as strictly as automobile use, many states require users to pass some sort of boating safety certification course in order to use motorized watercraft in state waters. As was pointed out many years ago when I got my boating certification in Connecticut, boat dealers are not required to inform buyers of local regulations on this matter, so many set forth unknowing and dangerously unprepared.
And while not all states require safety certification, boating rules and regulations are not always as straightforward and obvious to the new boaters as one might think. In light of this, I would recommend taking a safety class even if your state does not require it.
The following information applies to boating for recreational use, only, and should only be used as a starting point. Be sure to verify your local boating laws as they relate to you before setting out on the water.
Individuals over the age of 18 are not required to possess a boating safety certification. However, persons 16 years of age and under 18 years of age MAY NOT operate a personal watercraft unless they possess on their person, identification showing proof of age and proof of successful completion of a NASBLA approved boating safety course unless they are accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older who physically occupies the personal watercraft.
For more information, please visit maine.gov.
New Hampshire has a mandatory boating education law. Everyone 16 years of age and older who operates a motorboat over 25 horsepower on New Hampshire waters must have a boating education certificate.
New Hampshire accepts the following boating education certificates:
- A boating certificate issued by another State agency and NASBLA approved.
- A boating certificate issued by the US Power Squadron.
- A boating certificate issued by the US Coast Guard Auxiliary.
- An unexpired commercial boating license issued by the US Coast Guard.
- An unexpired commercial boating license issued by the State of New Hampshire.
For more information, and to access a list of state-approved boating safety classroom courses, please visit nh.gov.
Persons 16 years of age or older may operate a motorboat on Massachusetts waters without age restrictions and without completion of a boating education course. Persons under 12 years of age may operate a motorboat on Massachusetts waters only if accompanied on board and directly supervised by a competent person 18 years of age or older. Persons 12 through 15 years of age may operate a motorboat on Massachusetts waters only if they: 1) Have passed a state-approved boating education course, or 2) Are accompanied on board and directly supervised by a competent person 18 years of age or older.
For additional information, please visit mass.gov.
Completion of a state-approved boating safety course is required in Rhode Island if 1) You were born after January 1, 1986, 2) You will be operating a Personal Watercraft (Jet Ski), regardless of age and regardless of residency, or 3) If you are an Out-of-State Resident and operating a vessel (other than a Personal Watercraft-see above), you must meet the requirements of your home state in order to operate in Rhode Island Waters.
For more information, please visit dem.ri.gov.
To legally operate any boat with a motor, or a sailboat 19 1/2 feet in length or longer for anyone who resides in Connecticut, owns real property in Connecticut, or registers a vessel in Connecticut must possess either a Safe Boating Certificate (SBC), a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation (CPWO) or a valid vessel operator license issued by the United States Coast Guard.
For more information and a current list of boating exam certification courses, please visit ct.gov.