Safe Boating

Do I Need a License to Operate Sailboats?

Men on a sailboat, do you need a license for sailboats concept.

Sailing is a passion for many boaters across the country. From sailing on lakes to the ocean's open waters, many boaters prefer letting the wind propel their watercraft instead of a motor.

Even when sailing the seas instead of speedboating across the waves, safety must be a priority. It’s also crucial to operate sailboats within the laws of the waters where you sail.

So, do you need a license to operate sailboats? What about a safety certification? Today, we’ll answer these questions for sailors of the seas!

A man on a sailboat using bincoulars, safety on sailboats concept.

All Boaters Must Follow Essential Safety Protocols

Whether you sail or operate a pontoon boat with friends or pets on board, every watercraft operator must follow the same safety and navigation rules on the water.

hat means sailors must understand when they have the right of way vs. when they need to give way to other vessels in their path. Sailboat operators must also understand waterway markings and what they mean, the penalties for boating while drinking, how to dispose of waste properly, and how to avoid boating accidents.

While a sailboat may be a more peaceful way to enjoy the water than a jetboat, it can be just as dangerous to operators and passengers when they are unaware of (or ignore) the rules of good safety on a body of water.

Do You Need a License to Sail Your Boat?

This can be a tricky question, considering the factors involved in determining if you need a license to operate your sailboat.

In general, most states require operators of sailboats to have a license. This can be in addition to a general boating license, but in many cases, your general license for operating watercraft covers a sailboat, too.

Currently, there are eight states that don’t require a license to sail a boat. They include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Maine
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

However, there may be other requirements for operating a sailboat in those states, even if you don’t need a sailboat license. Most states require all boat operators to have a boater safety certification and be at least a certain age before operating a motorized vessel or sailboat.

Consider Your Boat’s Size

If you have a small sailboat, maybe for you and your loved one to take short sales on a small lake or pond in the evening, you might not need a license.

However, you'll likely need a license if you have a large sailboat for racing, long journeys down the coast, or big fishing expeditions. Check with the locations where you store your boat or sail to make sure you have the documentation you need to sail legally.

Check With Your Insurance

Sometimes, whether the state requires it or not, your sailboat insurance company may require a boating license and safety certification to cover your vessel. Other policies offer discounts for boaters who carry a safety certification and license, so it can benefit you to have those items even though they are not required.

A graphic showing the parts of sailboats.

Knowledge Keeps You Safe

Whether it’s required or not, “should” you have a license and safety certification is probably a better question to ask.

If you’re new to sailing, a boater education course helps you learn how to stay safe on the water. You’ll learn about:

  • The parts of a sailboat (and how they work)
  • The safety equipment your sailboat needs before leaving the dock
  • Nautical knots sailors use to operate boats
  • Who can operate your boat legally if you sail with young crew members (like your children)
  • How to boat safely around other watercraft, including motorized boats that could be more powerful and dangerous than your sailboat
  • How to avoid accidents (and what to do if something goes wrong)

Sailboat operators shouldn’t think that sailing is always safer than operating a boat with an engine. While a powerful jetboat can be very dangerous, plenty of things can go wrong in a boat powered by wind and sails.

A boater education course prepares you to be on the water safely! Even if you’re a seasoned sailor, getting safety certified helps support your experience on the water so you can spend more time sailing safely.

A man and boy on a boat, safe sailboats concept.

Sail Sailboats Safely With Boat-Ed

We know avid sailors are anxious to get out on the water each season. We also know that new sailors are excited to learn and spend more hours on the water as they get the hang of sailing. There’s nothing quite like the wind in your sails and the sound of the ocean or lake as the soundtrack to a day on the water!

So, before you set sail again, make sure you’ve put safety first. Our state-approved Boat-Ed courses cover a range of safety essentials that help you comply with certification and licensing requirements in all 50 states. You can also take your course and pass your exam online – at your own pace – from a phone or computer, and anywhere you can connect to the internet.

We hope you have a safe and fun sailing season! Find the course for your state and start learning.