Are you a beginner boater or have a teenage son or daughter who is interested in captaining your “ship”?  Many states now have Boater Safety certification requirements in order to legally operate a motorboat or PWC.  Fortunately, there are a number of free or low-cost resources available to complete the necessary training.  In this article, I explain how to quickly find the appropriate resources available in your area.

Do I need a boater “license” or certification?

Before delving into the various resources, you need to first determine whether Boater Safety training is even required in your state.  The rules vary considerably from state to state.  Most require younger adults and teenagers to pass an approved training course if born after a specific date.  And some have different regulations based on the size of the motor and whether you wish to operate a motorboat vs. a PWC.  Check out my related article to find out the specific Boater Education Requirements by State.

Where can I get boater training in my state?

There are a number of organizations that offer boating safety classes but typically only a few are certified for a given state.  To find the approved providers in your area, check out this reference list from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).

Below is a brief description of the more popular providers.

  • BoatUS.  This is a “free” online boater education course that is accepted in over 30 states at present.  However, additional state fees apply.  For example, in Texas, there is an $11 fee to remit the results to the state for certification.  The course takes 4 to 8 hours to complete.
  • Boat-Ed.  This popular and highly rated course has been approved in nearly every state.  The cost is currently $39.95 in most areas but may be slightly higher or lower in some states.  State fees are extra.
  • Boater Exam. This is another popular online course offered by the same company as Boat-Ed (Kalkomey) and is available in over 40 states and throughout Canada.  The cost is $34.95 in the US and $49.95 in Canada.  State fees are extra. Videos and images are used throughout the training for a more pleasurable and engaging experience.  According to the company website, the course takes 4 to 6 hours to complete.
  • ilearntoboat.  As another course offered by  Kalkomey, this one differs in that it takes an “interactive”, gaming-like approach that provides real-life situations and role-playing simulations.   The cost is approximately $55 but varies in some areas.  State fees are extra.  The training takes roughly 3 hours to complete.
  • America’s Boating Course.  This very thorough course was developed by the United States Power Squadrons and has been accepted in approximately 30 states.  Some unique features are its comprehensive 287-page course manual and reference materials (available for download or on the company website) and personal contact from a squadron member to answer questions or to offer assistance.   The cost is $35 as of this writing.

Which online safety course should I choose?

In many cases, you might not have a choice – depending on which courses are approved by your state.  But, assuming you have a choice, BoatUS is a good option for those who want to save money since it is the only free service (other than the State fees).  And, if ilearntoboat is available, teenagers and younger adults might find this one appealing because its interactive and more visual approach might help them to stay focused.

If your orientation is to go “deep”, then America’s Boating Course might be right for you if approved in your state given its very comprehensive curriculum and course materials.

For everyone else, either Boat-Ed or Boater Exam should serve you well as they are both broadly available and have received very positive reviews from thousands of other boaters.

Finally, one other benefit of taking a NASBLA-approved boater safety course is that you may be eligible for a discount on your boater insurance.  You’ll want to be sure to inquire about that with your insurance provider after you complete the course.

Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his website.

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