Water Sports

Do You Need a Boating License to Drive a Jet Ski?

Every summer, people of all ages get excited and practically race out to the waterfront for boating season. The weather is great and you have everything you need – at least you think you do. You or your friends have a Sea Doo, WaveRunner, Jet Ski or other personal watercraft (PWC), and you’re ready to drive it. If you don’t have your boating license, however, that personal watercraft isn't going anywhere.

There is a lot of confusion about licensing when it comes to personal watercraft. They may not look like boats, but personal watercraft are classified as boats and are subject to the same boating laws as a 40 foot yacht. A PWC is considered a small vessel that uses an inboard jet as its primary source of propulsion. The operator(s) can either be sitting, standing or kneeling on the vessel rather than riding in it.

In 2019, personal watercrafts accounted for 19 percent of boating accidents, including 660 casualties. These small vessels have to share the waterways with much larger boats, and it’s important to know how to safely and legally operate them.  With a boating license and your life jacket, you’ll be prepared to drive.

There isn't a separate course for a Jet Ski license. It’s included in your state’s NASBLA-approved boating safety course. The requirements for who needs a boating license to operate a personal watercraft vary by state and are determined mostly by age.  However, your state also can take into account these factors:

  • Vessel type
  • Vessel length
  • Supervision of license owners
  • Age of supervised license owners
  • Driver’s license

In addition to needing a boating license or certificate, there are other requirements, some state specific, that apply only to PWCs:

  • U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V personal flotation device (no inflatables)
  • Ignition safety switch
  • Operation based on the time of day
  • Who can ride or be towed on a personal watercraft

Not following those requirements, or not having a license at all, can result in a fine by your state’s law enforcement department. Multiple citations could mean a fine and taking a boating safety course. Taking the course before you head out onto the water can save you time, money and keep you from injuring yourself or someone else.

Information on PWCs is included in each state’s boating safety course. Units are divided into topics that cover mechanical details, operation and maintenance. Even if your state doesn't require a license for your personal watercraft, your insurance company might. If you have questions about the requirements in your state, visit the corresponding page on www.boat-ed.com.

Did you know you can use your boating license in other states? Read here to find out how!