What Size Boat Requires A Captain's License? | LakeWizard

Owning and operating your boat can be a lot of fun if you enjoy life on the water, but what size boats require you to have a captain’s license?

The prospect of owning and operating your own boat sounds like a dream come true for many who enjoy life on the water. But all of the different rules and regulations that you need to follow can be confusing, and deciding what boat you want can be even more complicated if you don’t know what you can operate yourself.

In short, you can technically drive any size boat without a captain’s license, although many states do have their own requirements for boats over a certain length. Captain’s licenses have more to do with being able to host paid passengers and operate inspected or uninspected vessels.

As you can see, the rules around boating, necessary certifications, and captain’s licenses can be quite confusing and though you may technically be able to operate a large craft without a captain's license, you might not want to. Not to mention that in most states there are safety certification requirements that need to be met if you are planning on operating a boat over a certain size, and even if they aren’t required, your bank account might thank you for the lesser insurance payments that you’ll have to pay if you have some sort of certification or license.

In my time as a licensed charter boat captain, I’ve become very familiar with all of the rules and necessary certifications needed to operate vessels of all different sizes. So, if you want to know what boats you are able to operate and what requirements you will need to meet, I assure you that you will find all of the necessary information here.

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Do You Need A Captain’s License?

Most likely, if you are not planning on carrying passengers for hire on your boat, you will not need a captain’s license to operate the said boat. However, it is important to check the boating laws and regulations in the state that you live in before purchasing any sort of watercraft, as many states require you to have some sort of safety certification to operate any sort of watercraft on their waters.

Each state has very different regulations when it comes to boating, and it would take forever to go through each state individually. So instead, I will list a few examples of the rules in different states so that you can get an idea of what a state may require to operate a boat.

In Connecticut, for example, any boat with a motor or engine, with the exception of personal watercraft, like jet skis, and most sailboats, will require the owner or operator to have a Safe Boating Certificate. Approved courses are offered many times throughout the year all over Connecticut. All you’ll need to do is successfully complete the course and pay the $50 dollar fee and you’ll be able to operate any boat you like.

While having some sort of boating safety certification is required to operate motor boats in many states, Alabama is the only state that requires you to have an actual boating license. However, it is important to remember that this is not a Captain’s License, just a standard license to operate any sort of pleasure boat or personal watercraft. Much like a standard driver’s license allows you to drive your personal car but not a bus or freight truck, this boating license allows you to operate your own boat but does not allow you to bring on paid passengers or operate much larger vessels including ferries like a Captain’s License does.

It’s important to remember that, even if a Captain’s License or other safety certifications aren’t needed to operate the boat that you want, it still may be a good idea to get one. Insurance companies are much more likely to give you a discount on boat insurance if you can prove that you are a capable sailor, so these are still worth considering when you are picking out a boat.

What Captain’s License Should I Get?

Let’s say that you’ve decided that you want to bring on paid passengers or want to operate larger ships like freight vessels. If this is the case, you will most definitely need a Captain’s License.

There are two types of Captain’s Licenses, both of which are given out and regulated by the US Coast Guard. The two Captain’s Licenses available to you are the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels License and the Master License. The type of license that you want will depend on how many paid passengers you want to be able to take on your boat, and whether or not your boat is considered an uninspected or inspected vessel.

Operator Of Uninspected Passenger Vessels License (OUPV)

The OUPV License, often referred to as the Six-pack License or Charter Boat License, allows you to operate an uninspected vessel with up to six paid passengers on board. This is the license you’ll need if you want to run charter boats, fishing boats, or anything else of similar size and weight.  However, while the passenger limit is quite clear, you may be wondering what an uninspected vessel is.

An uninspected vessel is any boat that weighs under 100 gross tons, is approximately 100 feet long more or less,  and carries no more than six passengers. These vessels do not need to be officially inspected by the Coast Guard, although you may want to have your boat inspected voluntarily on occasion to be sure that everything is in working order.

If you are considering getting the Six-pack License, it’s important to note that these licenses are given for specific routes and are not valid everywhere in the country. For example, you may get a OUPV License to operate in the Great Lakes, but this license would not allow you to operate your boat in inland waters like rivers and lakes. Besides the Great Lakes and inland routes, you can also obtain a Six-pack License to operate in coastal waters up to 100 miles offshore.

Master License

The Master License is what you’ll need to operate larger inspected vessels that carry more than 6 paid passengers. These include ships like freight vessels, offshore supply vessels and any other vessel that weighs more than 100 gross tons and carries more than 6 passengers.

Inspected vessels must be officially inspected by the US Coast Guard annually in order to maintain its Certificate of Inspection and remain legal. These inspections require that the vessel as well as the owners and crew to pass the rigorous safety, mechanical and stability requirements enforced by the Coast Guard.

General Information About Captain’s Licenses

While there are many different requirements needed to obtain each different Captain’s License, including having the right amount of experience with the appropriate vessels, there are some general things that apply to both licenses and are important to know if you are interested in obtaining either one.

Firstly, the applications to obtain these licenses are available at all of the Coast Guard’s Regional Education Centers or RECs. You’ll want to look up where the closest REC is to you as they not only provide the applications but also have all of the information about specific requirements that you’ll need when applying for a Captain’s License.

Along with your application, you will also need to get a physical from your doctor as well as pass a drug test, and successfully complete an approved CPR and First Aid Course. Once you’ve completed these requirements as well as any specific requirements needed to obtain the Captain’s License of your choice, you’ll be able to successfully submit your application and receive your license.

Once you receive the said license, all you’ll need to do to stay up to date is to simply renew your Captain’s License every five years.


Brian Samson

Brian Samson

I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.

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