Minimum Age For Driving or Renting Boats: Rules Per 50 States

In Boatingby Morten Storgaard

In the United States, each state regulates the minimum age you must be to drive a boat. This means that there are different rules and requirements throughout the country.

What is the minimum age to drive or rent a boat in the United States?

The very minimum age is universally 12 years old. However, there are plenty of states that do not have a listed age requirement. To rent a boat, you must follow the individual rules of each location you rent from. However, the most common age is at least 18 and can stretch to 25 years old.

We’ve compiled a list of those rules, as well as tips for how young people can get started boating, and compiled them together below.

Let’s get started!

How Can Young People Get Started with Boating?

You should check with your local boating authority to learn more about your area’s regulations and learn more about the best areas to boat with your family. Many areas with large boating communities offer safety and training courses for young people to help them explore their interests out on the water safely.

Young people can get started boating by learning how to operate low horsepower and slower personal watercraft (PWC). Those under the age of 12 should generally not operate even low-end PWC without the assistance of an adult.

There are plenty of fun ways to get your children into boating without operating a boat or personal watercraft by themselves. Demonstrate how you control your vessel and allow them to ask questions, much like you would when teaching a child how to drive a car.

Allow them some time behind the vessel’s controls only if this is legally allowed in your state.

How do States Classify the Different Types of Boats for Minimum Age Requirements?

The exact classification of what types of boats and personal watercraft (PWC) can be driven by minors will vary from state to state. Many states choose to classify vessels based on their maximum speed or horsepower.

Be sure to check with your state’s individual boating authority if you have any questions about what age your minor child can operate a vessel legally. While we do our best to ensure the information we provide is accurate, it is always best to contact the proper authorities whenever you have a question.

How is the Minimum Age to Rent a Boat Determined?

In addition to a state’s minimum age requirement to operate a boat, each rental company may impose their own limitations on the age of who may rent or operate one of their rented boats.

This can be both for safety and insurance reasons. Before renting a boat, check with the office of the rental company to determine what their minimum age requirements are.

Minimum Age For Driving Boats by State:

Alabama

Alabama requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a boat or personal watercraft. Between the ages of 12 and 13, they must be accompanied on board by a licensed boat operator over the age of 21.

Alaska

Alaska does not have a minimum age requirement to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

Arizona

Arizona requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a vessel with more than 8 horsepower. Under the age of 12, children may operate vessels during emergencies or when a licensed operator over the age of 18 is on board.

Arkansas

Arkansas requires that children be at least 14 years old and certified before operating a vessel with more than 10 horsepower by themselves. Children between 12 and 13 can be certified and accompanied by an 18-year-old on board.

Those under 12 must be certified and be accompanied by a 21-year-old who can take over control of the vessel in the case of emergencies.

California

California requires that children be at least 16 years old to operate a vessel with more than 15 horsepower by themselves. Children between 12 and 15 must be accompanied by a person who is at least 18 years old.

Colorado

Colorado requires that children be at least 14 years old and complete a boating safety course before operating a vessel. Once the child turns 16 the boating safety course is no longer a requirement.

Connecticut

Connecticut requires that children be at least 16 years old before operating a vessel on their own. Children under the age of 12 may operate vessels with up to 10 horsepower.

Delaware

Delaware requires that children be at least 14 years old, complete a boating safety class, and be accompanied by an adult on board to operate a vessel. Once the child turns 16 they no longer need to be accompanied by an adult but still, require a boating safety class.

Florida

Florida requires that children be at least 14 years old to operate personal watercraft or other vessels.

Georgia

Georgia requires that children be at least 12 to operate personal watercraft or other vessels.

Hawaii

Hawaii requires that children be at least 15 years old to operate a boat or other vessel.

Idaho

Idaho has no minimum age requirements for operating a boat or other vessel.

Illinois

Illinois has no age requirements to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

Indiana

Indiana requires that children be at least 15 years old and receive boating education. Those 16 years old or older must have a valid driver’s license to operate a boat with more than 10 horsepower.

Iowa

Iowa requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a vessel with more than 10 horsepower. Children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by an adult on board.

Kansas

Kansas requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate any vessel.

Kentucky

Kentucky requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a vessel with more than 10 horsepower.

Louisiana

Louisiana requires that children be at least 16 years old and receive a boating certification to operate a vessel.

Maine

Maine requires that children be at least 12 years old and accompanied by a person at least 16 years old to operate a vessel with more than 10 horsepower. Those under the age of 16 may not operate a personal watercraft.

Those between 16 and 18 may operate a personal watercraft by either being accompanied by an 18-year-old or by taking an educational course.

Maryland

Maryland requires that children be at least 12 years old if they are operating a vessel used for towing. To operate a personal watercraft, the child must be at least 16 years old.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts has no requirements for a minimum age to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

Michigan

Michigan requires that children be at least 14 years old to operate personal watercraft or other vessels.

Minnesota

Minnesota requires that children be at least 12 years old and receive a certification to operate a vessel with more than 25 horsepower. Children must be at least 13 to operate personal watercraft.

Mississippi

Mississippi requires that children be at least 12 years old and complete a boating safety course to operate personal watercraft and other vessels.

Missouri

Missouri requires that children be at least 14 years old under the supervision of someone at least 16 years old to operate personal watercraft.

Montana

Montana has no true minimum age requirement, but rules in place for each age. For any vessel with more than 10 horsepower, children between the ages of 1 and 12 must be accompanied by an 18-year-old.

Those between the ages of 13 to 14 must either have a safety certification or be accompanied by an adult.

Nebraska

Nebraska requires that children be at least 14 years old to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

Nevada

Nevada requires that children be at least 14 years old to operate personal watercraft.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire requires that children be at least 16 years old to ride personal watercraft without being accompanied by an adult.

New Jersey

New Jersey requires that children be at least 13 years old to drive a vessel that is longer than 12 feet, has more than 10 horsepower, or is powered by an electric motor. Children need to be at least 16 and have a boating safety certificate to operate personal watercraft.

New Mexico

New Mexico requires that children be at least 13 years old to operate both boats and personal watercraft.

New York

New York requires that children be at least 10 years old and receive a boating safety certificate to operate a boat. Children must be at least 14 years old and receive a safety certificate to operate personal watercraft.

North Carolina

North Carolina requires that children be at least 14 years old to operate a personal watercraft and be accompanied by an adult or have a safety certification until they are 16 years old.

North Dakota

North Dakota requires that children be at least 12 years old and receive certification to operate any vessel with more than 10 horsepower. Once the child turns 16 these rules no longer apply.

Ohio

Ohio requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate personal watercraft.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a vessel with more than 10 horsepower or any personal watercraft.

Those between the ages of 12 to 16 must complete a boating safety course and be accompanied onboard by an adult 18 years old who can take control of the vessel.

Oregon

Oregon requires that children be at least 16 years old to operate personal watercraft alone. Those under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a vessel with more than 25 horsepower or any personal watercraft.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island has no minimum age requirement to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

South Carolina

South Carolina has no minimum age requirement to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

South Dakota

South Dakota requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a boat with more than 6 horsepower alone. Those under 12 must be accompanied by an 18-year-old.

To operate a personal watercraft the minimum age is 14 unless accompanied by an 18-year-old.

Tennessee

Tennesse requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a boat with more than 8.5 horsepower or any personal watercraft.

Texas

Texas requires that children be at least 16 years old to operate a vessel with more than 15 horsepower or any personal watercraft.

Utah

Utah requires that children be at least 16 years old to operate a boat. Those under the age of 18 must complete a safety course to operate a personal watercraft.

Vermont

Vermont requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a boat with more than 6 horsepower. Children must be at least 16 years old and receive a boating safety certificate to operate personal watercraft.

Virginia

Virginia requires that children be at least 14 years old and complete a safety course to operate a personal watercraft.

Washington

Washington requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a boat with more than 15 horsepower. Children must be at least 14 to ride a personal watercraft, with the exception of personal rental watercraft.

If it is rented, Washington requires that children be at least 16 years old.

West Virginia

West Virginia requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a boat with more than 10 horsepower and must be accompanied by an adult. This includes personal watercraft.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin requires that children be at least 12 years old to operate a boat or personal watercraft.

Wyoming

Wyoming requires that children be at least 16 years old and accompanied by an adult to operate a boat, personal watercraft, or other vessels.

Final Thoughts

Each state handles children operating boats and personal watercraft differently. Be sure to enroll your child in a safety course and impress upon them the importance of staying level-headed out on the water.

Your child’s safety is the number one concern when having fun out on the water. Make sure you’re following all local regulations and laws to keep the fun going and everyone out on the water safe!

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