Boat License Prices: Here’s What You Need (3 Types Explained)

In Boating by Christopher Schopf

Getting a boat license can be inexpensive and easy or it can be expensive and time-consuming.  The difference will be in the type of boat license you need.

There are three main licenses that people need to concern themselves within the United States and one of them technically isn’t a license at all.

However, even for this “non-license”, you’ll still have to take a course, pass a test, pay a fee, and carry a card with you, so it might as well be called a license.

Here’s everything you should know about boat licenses and how much they cost.

Here are the prices for the 3 types of boat licenses:

Boat Licence Type Price
Boater Safety Education $55-$65
The OUPV License $940-$1,470
The Master License $1,140-$1,670

1) Boater Safety Education

Almost all states in the country require boaters to take a boater safety education course.  When I took this course, I had to take the classes in person.

It only lasted a few hours a day but it took a few days.
(On the plus side, they did give us donuts)

These days, you can easily take the course online and it only costs $34.95 to do so.  On top of this, some states will also charge a state fee but this is usually only around $10.00.

After you’ve completed the course, you’ll have to go to a licensing center where they’ll issue you your ID card.

This also comes at a price but it is usually less than $20.00

In total, the cost of this “license” will range from $55.00 to $65.00.  This is the easiest and least expensive of the three and it is what most people will need to get.

2) The OUPV License

The acronym OUPV stands for “Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels”.

This license allows boat owners to operate a 100 gross ton vessel with up to 6 paying passengers. 

For this reason, some people refer to it as a “6-pack” license.

The boats that can be used in operations like this do not have to be inspected under USCG Commercial Vessel Inspection Standards.

You might get a license like this to run a small fishing charter operation or to do sightseeing tours.  In fact, many boat owners decide to get this license so that they can earn some money on the side during the boating season.

How to Get The OUPV License

In order to understand how much you’ll pay for this license, you have to understand what is involved in getting it.

To get this license, you’ll first need to have used a boat within this category for at least 90 days out of the last 3 years. 

This will most likely cost you money unless you’ve convinced a friend to let you use their boat for free for 90 days.  How much money this will cost will vary greatly depending on whether or not you own the boat and how you actually use the boat.

Depending on what variation of license you decide to get, you may also need to log a specific amount of time on the ocean or on the Great Lakes.  This will obviously cost you money as well but it is something that you probably would have done anyway so it’s up to you to decide whether or not to factor this into your costs.

Once you’ve satisfied these requirements, you’ll need to take an actual course.

The course will vary in price but it typically ranges between $500.00 to $800.00.  Complete the course and you’ll need to take an evaluated exam which will cost you between $100.00 and $200.00. 

These numbers vary because different companies will charge different fees.

Additionally, licensing requires that you have a Transportation Worker Identification Credential.  The Transportation Security Administration will issue this to you for $125.00.

On top of all of this, they’ll also require you to take and pass a CPR course.   The cost of this will vary but you can expect to pay around $100.00 through the American Red Cross.

A doctor will need to give you a health exam as well.  You’ll probably pay anywhere from $100.00 to $150.00 for this exam.

Even after all of this, you’re still not done yet.  You’ll need to also get a background check and take a drug test.

A background check is done by the state and it will usually cost you between $10.00 and $20.00.  Drug tests are typically done at an independent lab and cost between $30.00 and $50.00.

Have we lost you yet?

Don’t worry, here is a quick chart to make things a bit easier for you.

Cost Low-end Estimated Costs High-end Estimated Costs
Cost of Boating Experience Free Variable
Cost of Licensing Course $500.00 $800.00
Cost of the Exam $100.00 $200.00
Cost of the CPR Course $75.00 $125.00
Cost of the Transportation Worker Identification Card $125.00 $125.00
Doctor’s Exam $100.00 $150.00
Background Check $10.00 $20.00
Drug Test $30.00 $50.00
Total Cost of Getting an OUPV License $940.00 $1,470.00

Just keep in mind that many of these costs are just estimates based on the typical costs associated with each stage of getting the license.

Take your time getting the license and you may find that you’re able to get it for less money than what is outlined here. 

On the other hand, you may need extra help passing the test and you could end up spending even more money on tutoring or examination preparation materials.

3) The Master License

The master license lets you carry more than 6 passengers on a boat that is inspected under USCG commercial inspection standards.

This license can be issued as a 25, 50, or 100-ton master captain’s license. 

The license you get will depend on whether or not you have experience with larger vessels.

For example, captains with experience operating 50-ton vessels will get a license that allows them to operate 25 and 50-ton vessels.  If and when the captain gets experience with 100-ton vessels, he or she can then upgrade their license to reflect this.

The fees associated with getting a master license are all about the same as they were with the OUPV license.

However, if the person already has an OUPV license, he or she can expect to save a lot of money on the exam courses as well as all of the additional fees that go into getting a captain’s license.

For example, if you already have your OUPV license, you will already have your CPR certification and your TWIC.  You’ll also have a background check, drug test, and physical examination out of the way as well.

In the end, upgrading may only cost you a few hundred dollars.

Other Licensing Fees

Some people may also need to get endorsements added to their licenses.  These endorsements will allow them to do additional things with their license.

Two of the most common endorsements are the towing endorsement and the sailing endorsement.

In order to get these endorsements added to your license, you’ll have to take additional courses and pay additional fees.

These courses usually cost an additional $200.00 each.

Ongoing Fees To Know About

All three types of licenses will need to be renewed.  The first type of license is easy to renew while the second and third ones are a little more difficult.

For the safety course certificate card, you’ll just need to pay another $18.00 license fee.  This can be done at a motor vehicle agency.

The other types of licenses will require you to renew the license, get another physical exam and take another drug test.  This will most likely result in you having to spend another $200.00 to $300.00.

Saving Money and Getting Experience

If you’d like to save money on getting your captain’s license, there is a really fantastic way to do so.

Instead of taking a course, go ahead and get a job working for a licensed captain.  The captain can teach you everything you need to know while paying you to learn.

On top of this, you’ll also get the hours of experience you need to get your license.

If you still feel you need some extra help learning, you can always buy exam preparation software for as little as $100.00.

Final Thoughts

Most people aren’t going to have to pay much to get a license.  They’ll get a general boating safety certification and they’ll pay less than $50.00 to get it.

In my opinion, this $50.00 is well worth it as you will actually learn how to safely operate a motorized boat.

This ends up being a much better deal than a standard motor vehicle license as you at least receive training in exchange for the money you spend.

People looking to get a captain’s license should consider whether or not they actually need one.  If you’re looking to learn more about boating but do not intend on earning a lot of money off of it, it just might not be worth it.

The time and money you’ll spend acquiring your license is time and money that you could spend on running a different kind of side business.

This being said, if you plan on starting a charter boat service, it is essential that you get your license.

If you don’t, you’ll be subject to fines and even imprisonment.  Not only this, but you’ll also open yourself up to a lot of liability.  Besides, having a license will show your clients that you are a professional and that you know what you’re doing.