Boating Test Guide

The Boating Test Summary
What: Tests for boating safety proficiency
Who: Depending on the state, those that wish to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft. The age requirements vary by state.
Where: Alabama, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Mexico at testing centers.
When: Varies by state and testing location
How: Testing either in-person or online.
Type: Written exam, although, some states accept completion of an approved online examination
Why: Some states require motorboat operators to take an exam or offer equivalency exams in lieu of a boater safety course.
Time: Varies by state and testing location.
Language: English
Preparation: Taking a boater safety course and/or studying a boating safety manual will help candidates prepare. Candidates must bring a form of identification with them to the testing center.
Cost: Varies by state; anywhere from free to $10.


By Kara Arnold, Tests.com Contributing Writer

People who own boats often can’t wait to take them out on the water. Many states, however, have laws requiring boat operators to be licensed. While most states merely require boat registration, four – New Hampshire, Alabama, Maryland and New Mexico – mandate that boaters take a boating license exam.

  • A boating licensing exam is required in New Hampshire for the operation of boats with horsepower of 25 or more. Applicants must complete both a boating safety course and pass an exam.
  • In Alabama, Maryland and New Mexico, applicants must pass an exam to become licensed.
  • Alabama and New York also offer licenses through the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and US Power Squadron.

Age Requirements

  • Alabama boat operators who were 40 years of age or older on April 28, 1994, do not need a license. However, those 12 to 13 years of age must be licensed (a Vessel Learner License only) and be accompanied by someone 21 years of age or older with a license who can immediately take over operation of the vessel. Once a boater is 14 years of age and older, he or she may operate with a license alone.
  • In Maryland, those born after June 30, 1972, must obtain a certificate by completing a course or passing an exam.
  • In New Mexico, those born after January 1, 1989, must take a boat safety course approved by New Mexico State Parks or pass a boating exam.
  • In New Hampshire, those younger than 16 years of age operating a boat with 25 horsepower or more must be accompanied by someone 18 or older who has completed the Department of Safety’s Boating Education Course. Those 16 years of age and older must have a license to operate boats with 25 horsepower or more.
  • In New Mexico, motorboat operators must be at least 13 years of age to operate without direct supervision. Those under 13 should have a Boater Education Card present and must operate under direct, onboard supervision.

Test Description
The exams are hand-written at testing sites. The exam in Alabama costs $5. The Maryland Basic Boating Equivalency Exam is free and consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. The New Hampshire $10.00 exam is scheduled every Saturday and participants are given an hour to complete the exam. The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA)-approved safety course concludes with a written exam that is at least 50 questions long including at least 10 specific questions about New Mexico boating laws. The “equivalency exam” is a written division-created exam containing the same number of questions also with at least 10 specific questions covering New Mexico boating laws, according to the New Mexico Commission of Public Records website. The exam is free, according to the New Mexico State Parks Division website.

Where to Take
Alabama – Any Department of Public Safety Driver’s License Examining Office in individual’s county of residence.
Maryland – Testing sites are located in the following counties, according to DNR: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Garrett, Kent, Montgomery, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Washington and Worcester.
New Hampshire – Bedford Police Department, Concord Department of Safety, Gilford Municipal Headquarters, Keene, Meredith Community College, Moulton Borough Police Department, Nashua NHCTC, Newbury TH and Portsmouth.
New Mexico – Schedule an appointment at the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.

What Next?

For each test, examinees must pass by getting 80% correct.

In Alabama it is necessary to apply for boater safety certification to have a “V” class placed on automobile driver’s license ($18 fee) or be issued a “Vessel Only” license, according to DMV.org.

Those that fail after two attempts in Maryland must attend a Boating Safety Education class, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)website.

Those in New Hampshire must pay $10 for a permanent card.

No Exam Needed

According to DMV.org, the following states require operators to pass a boating safety course to obtain a license:

In Delaware, those born after January 1, 1978 must be licensed by completing an approved boater safety course to operate a watercraft with an engine of more than 10 horsepower, which includes personal watercrafts, such as Jet Skis. Boaters must be at least 12 years old to obtain a license, but at least 14 years old and licensed to operate a personal watercraft, according to DMV.org. Anyone under 16 years of age must have a licensed adult on board.

In Georgia, those that are 12 or 13 years old must obtain a boater’s license by passing a boating safety course in order to solely operate a Class A boat, including personal watercraft, with a horsepower of 30 or less. Those that are 14 or 15 can operate any motor-powered boat or personal watercraft alone once they’ve obtained a license by passing a course.

No License Needed

Some states do not require residents to have a boater’s license, and thus, no exam is necessary. According to DMV.org, these states include:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming (at least 16 years of age unless accompanied by an adult).

According to the State of Idaho Parks and Recreation website, Idaho does not require any license state-wide, but some counties within the state do have age restrictions: Adams County, Benewah County, Bonner County, Kootenai County and Valley County.

Some states do not issue licenses for operation of motorized vessels on public waterways, but still require residents and non-residents to have passed a boating education course and receive a certificate or card to show upon request. According to DMV.org, these states are:

Arkansas, Colorado (for sole operators 14 or 15 years old), Illinois (for sole operators 12-17 years old), Indiana (for sole operators that are 15-17 years old), Iowa (for sole operators 12-17 years old), Kansas (for sole operators born after January 1, 1989), Kentucky (for sole operators 12-17 years old), Louisiana (for sole operators 13-15 years of age or born after January 1, 1988), Massachusetts (for sole operators of a motorboat ages 12-15 or for sole operators of personal watercraft ages 16-17), Michigan (for sole operators of personal watercraft born after December 31, 1978), Minnesota (for solely operating a vessel with more than 2 horsepower ages 12-17), Mississippi (for sole operators born after June 29, 1980), Missouri (for sole operators born after January 1, 1984 and older than 14 years of age), Montana (for sole operators ages 13-14), Nevada (for operators of motorboats with more than 15 horsepower born after January 1, 1983 in Nevada’s interstate waters), New Jersey (for 13 years of age or older), New York (operating personal watercraft if 14 years of age, operating a motorboat ages 12-18), North Carolina (for sole operators ages 14-16), North Dakota (for sole operation of a powerboat with more than 10 horsepower, ages 12-15), Ohio (for operating boat powered by more than 10 horsepower, anyone born after January 1982), Oklahoma (for operation of motorboat with 10 or more horsepower, ages 12-16), Oregon (for anyone operating a powerboat with 10 horsepower or more and all youths 12 and older operating any sized powerboat), Pennsylvania (for operating a personal watercraft and anyone born on or after January 1, 1982, operating a motorboat with 25 horsepower or greater), Rhode Island (for anyone born after January 1, 1986 operating a boat with 10 horsepower or higher or operating regardless of age, a personal watercraft), South Carolina (for boaters under age 16 solely operating with a boat with 15 horsepower or more), Tennessee (for boaters born after January 1, 1989), Texas (for boaters born on or after September 1, 1984 and younger than 18), Utah (for operators ages 12-17), Vermont (for operators born on or after January 1, 1974 and at least 12 years of age to operate a boat with more than six horsepower), Virginia (boat operators ages 14-15, by July 1, 2009, all operators 20 years and younger and by 2016 all boat operators), Washington (for operators of motorboats with 15 horsepower or more, ages 12-25), West Virginia (for operators born after December 21, 1986), Wisconsin (for operators at least 16 years old born on or after January 1, 1989) and anyone in the District of Columbia.

Connecticut doesn’t require a license, except for personal watercraft operators, such as Jet Skis, who need to either take a safety course or pass a $25 exam to receive a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation (CPWO). The exam covers all aspects of basic boating including: general information and safety topics, Connecticut State law, trailering, waterways, canoes, motor boats, sail boats, personal watercrafts and row boats. A passing score is at least 80%. Individuals must make an appointment to take the exam by first filling out an Application for Equivalency Exam. The exam may be taken the first Wednesday of the month March-September at 9 AM at the Marine Headquarters in Old Lyme.

Floridians that are younger than 22 that wish to operate a boat or personal watercraft with a horsepower of 10 or greater must successfully complete a boater safety course to obtain a Boating Safety Education ID Card, according to DMV.org.

Getting ready for the Boating License exam? Take a look at our Boating Exam Directory to get started.