Boating Safety & Licensing

Statistically speaking, boating is remarkably safe. Last year, more than 100 million Americans went boating and initiatives by the U.S. Coast Guard have helped make it one of the safest years ever. Despite these efforts, last year there were still 613 deaths and, sadly, most of these were preventable. Fortunately, there are many ways to make boating as safe as possible.



Life Jackets are really important

Wearing life jackets makes a huge difference. In 2019, 79% of boating fatalities were due to drowning and 84% of the victims weren’t wearing a life jacket. Even strong swimmers should wear life jackets in case they are incapacitated.


Life jacket fit for kids is especially important; an ill-fitting jacket can be more dangerous than no jacket. With the jacket on, lift the jacket by the shoulders straps. If the jacket rides up over the child’s chin it’s a dangerous fit and the straps need to be tightened or a different size should be worn. New designs like the Kent Little Dippers are a variation of water wings and come in fun designs like the Ballerina and Pirate and have been recently approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Most states mandate when kids must wear life jackets and your state’s requirements can be found on the website. If you live in a state like Virginia that has no state life jacket requirement, the federal law is used instead, which mandates all kids under 13 wear a life jacket when the boat is underway. 



Inflatable life jackets are comfortable and effective

For those who are least 16 years old, inflatable jackets can be worn and are a more comfortable alternative than standard life jackets. Some will even automatically inflate when submerged. Like standard jackets, these have Coast Guard ratings that are categorized by their intended use and capability. For those participating in paddle sports, special lifejackets are made to allow the user to move freely.



Boating under the influence (BUI)  

By far, the largest single contributor to boating accidents resulting in deaths was from driving while consuming alcohol. In 2019, out of the 282 accidents that were caused by drinking to excess, they resulted in 212 deaths…more than 1/3 of the yearly total. This is more than four times the total of deaths caused by hazardous water conditions (48). Penalties for BUI are similar to DUI and enforcement has been ramped up over the past few years. The takeaway: while passengers responsibly enjoying a cocktail while watching the sunset is perfectly acceptable, it’s better for everyone if the driver of the boat abstains.



Boating education is required in most states

Boating educational requirements are set by each state and almost all states require some form of boater education. While many states have grandfathered in those who have reached a certain age, some have an educational requirement for all boaters. Fortunately, the BoatU.S. Foundation has created free online educational courses for boaters in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. These classes take from 4-8 hours to complete are a great way to learn more about boater safety, the rules of the road and meet the educational requirements for 35 states. In some of these 35 states, like Tennessee, this course is acceptable for those born before 1989. Those born after Jan 1, 1989, must take a proctored exam in person.


To find out which states accept BoatU.S. Foundation’s training courses, go to the website and click on your state’s tab. BoatU.S.’s website also includes a list of states that don’t recognize their training but lists what boaters need to do to comply, complete with links to each state’s licensing websites. Even if you aren’t required to take a class, this free training is a great refresher course for all boaters regardless of experience.



Boating is becoming increasingly more popular and the number of new boaters on the water has never been higher. By taking active steps to practice safe boating, it will result in a great day on the water that will result in creating the best of memories.   

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