Virginia boating license requirements & safety

As summer approaches, many people who love the water look forward to getting behind the helm of a boat. It’s important to be aware of all the requirements needed to handle a personal watercraft (PWC) such as Jet Skis and motorboats.

speedboat splashing through water

Virginia boating laws and safety

The state of Virginia takes boating laws very seriously.  Here are some other rules to keep in mind while boating.

  1. It is illegal to operate a motorboat or PWC while intoxicated.[4]
  2. It is illegal for someone under the age of 21 to operate a motorboat or PWC with a blood alcohol content greater than 0.02.[5]
  3. If you are involved in a boating accident you have a duty to stop and offer assistance, and in some cases report the accident to the Virginia Department for Game and Inland Fisheries.[6]  For a copy of the Accident Report Form click here.

According to the United States Coast Guard, the top five primary factors contributing to boating accidents are: operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed, and machinery failure.[7]

Do I need a Virginia boating license?

  • All motorboat operators of 10 hp or greater, regardless of age, and all PWC operators 14 years old or older must take a boating safety course to get licensed.
  • No one under the age of 14 may operate a PWC.
  • Operators 14 and 15 years of age must show proof of completing their education and provide a license.
  • If you do not have a state driver’s license, you can still obtain a boating license in Virginia.
  • You do not have to sign up for a course if you have previously taken a NASBLA-approved boating safety course and still have a card/certificate. Most state boating courses, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary courses, and the United States Power Squadrons courses are NASBLA-approved.

The purpose of the required classes and licenses is to have fewer accidents and fatalities in the future. It also helps to better fund enforcement of the laws governing the operation of motorboats and PWCs on our tidal and inland bodies of water.

boating at sunset

What happens if law enforcement catches me operating a PWC without a license?

Virginia law enforcement officers patrol the waterways to make your boating experience safe and pleasant. Cooperate with them by following the laws and guidelines.

  • Carry the Card: Vessel operators are required to carry proof that they completed a Virginia boater safety course. This card must be on board the vessel and available for inspection by an enforcement officer.
  • Penalty: Not carrying your Virginia boat license when one is required can result in a fine.
  • Fishing license: If you are fishing while on your boat, you must also carry a Virginia fishing license.

How do I get a Virginia boating license?

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources offers classes, some of which are free. However, the free classes fill up quickly. For a full schedule of classes offered, visit this link.

Other boater safety courses are offered throughout Virginia, both in-person and virtually. Allen & Allen doesn’t endorse or recommend any particular private boating education courses, but a simple online search pulls up a plethora of resources and options.

How do I get my Virginia fishing license?

All information in regards to licensing, qualifications, and fees can be found on the website for Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.

The importance of life jackets

“Where the cause of death was known, seventy-seven (77) percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned. Of those drowning victims with reported life jacket usage, eighty-four (84) percent were not wearing a life jacket.”[8]

The U.S. Coast Guard makes the following recommendations for life jackets:

  • It should be U.S. Coast Guard approved
  • It should be the proper size for the wearer
  • It should be in good and serviceable condition, and
  • It should be properly stowed so that it is readily accessible.[9]

If you or a loved one have been injured in a boating accident through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to compensation. Call Allen & Allen today for a free consultation at 866-388-1307.