Do you Need a License to Drive a Boat (for Fishing, Transport)?

Do you Need a License to Drive a Boat

Fishing from a boat has a lot of advantages ...

You can access places that are unavailable any other way and you can get away from the crowds.

Boats can be used on rivers, lakes and the sea, and you can either rent one, or buy it for yourself.

But before you head out to your next fishing adventure, you must know that driving a boat requires licence.

There are different types of those licences and they are quite easy to get. Or not?

Anglers who want to fish from a boat often ask “do you need a licence to drive a boat”?

There is no simple answer to that question, and that is why we are going to mention different countries and locations to compare the rules and regulations.

So, here we are going to discuss frequently asked questions about boat licences, and those are the following:

• Do you need a licence to drive a boat?
• Are there different types of boat licence?
• How do you get a boat licence?
• What can you use a boat for?
• How do you fish from a boat?
• How to choose a boat for beginners?



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Do you Need a Licence to Drive a Boat?

Having a valid licence (in those places where they are required) is mandatory, and keep in mind that it is against the law to drive a boat without it.

If you have never had a boat fishing experience, you must be aware of the fact that some locations are very busy and there is a lot of boat traffic. By learning the rules, you will ensure safety for both - you and everyone else around you.

Different countries/states have different regulations about boat licences ...

Before going boat fishing, make sure you familiarize yourself with up-to-date regulations valid for a certain location.

Boat licence in the USA

USA is a popular fishing place for both locals and tourists. Boat fishing is equally popular on salt and fresh water.

Every state has its own laws about this subject. Majority of them requires anyone driving a boat to pass the boat safety course. And there are different licences available.

Luckily, to drive a small boat for your personal fishing purposes, most of the countries require just a safety test.

In some states, but only a few of them, you do not have to obtain any licence or a safety certificate.

Because it may change in the future, always check for the state you are going to drive a boat in.

However, if you plan driving a larger boat, or doing it commercial purpose, licence will be necessary.

Also, some states have a rule that a person of a certain age must have a licence, and others do not.

If you want to purchase your own boat, in some cases, having a licence may lower your insurance fees, even if the licence is not required in your state.

Foreigners must obey the same laws, and their licence must be approved by NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators).

If you wish to operate a sailboat, keep in mind that most states require captains’ licence for that.

All the details are available on numerous websites and you will easily get all the information you need.

Boat licence in Canada

In Canada, anyone who wants to drive a boat in recreational purposes, has to pass a boater safety course.

After you pass the exam, you will get a pleasure craft operator card, which is mandatory to have with you during boating. It does not have to be renewed and has no expiration date.

If a foreigner wants to operate a boat in Canadian waters, he must present a valid licence which is approved by NASBLA. If you are a holder of a foreign licence, make sure it is on a list, before driving a boat in Canadian waters.

This law has one exception, and that is non-residents who will operate their own boat less than 45 consecutive days. However, if you wish to rent a boat in Canada, you will need a licence.

Boat licence in EU

Similar to the USA, every country in EU has its own rules, regulations and state laws.

Majority of countries requires a licence, for both sea and fresh water surfaces. And in some countries, there are different licences for rivers and sea, meaning that a holder of licence valid for freshwater may not legally drive a boat on the sea.

Some countries have a rule that if the boat engine exceeds certain power, a person driving it must have a licence. In some other countries, everyone needs to have it and certain licence types cover driving of certain boat types.

I will not mention the exact details about boat types/weight or engine power because rules may change and you are responsible to check for a country you are going to drive a boat in.

Boat licence in UK

To operate a boat in UK inland waterways, you need a licence. And this is valid for all boat types, even kayaks, canoes and paddleboards!

There are short term licences for those small boats. You may purchase them without passing a safety course. Those licences are sold to earn money for keeping the canals and rivers well maintained.

Another complication in the UK is that different waterways are under different regulatory bodies and different rules apply. Before operating a boat, you must know where you will do it and check the information online.

Same as for other destinations, all the information is easily accessible.

Boating around the British coast, at sea, does not require a licence.

Boat licence in Australia

In Australia, for smaller boats, up to a certain engine power, you are not required to have a licence. For any other boat, you must obtain one. In a case that a certified supervisor is present on board, you may drive a boat without a licence but only if the supervisor is ready to take control at any time.

If you apply for a marine licence, you must pass a safety course and a medical exam.

If you are a foreigner, you may use a licence issued by your country, only if it is recognized by the Australian authorities.

If you are operating a boat in Australia, in some areas you are not required to physically have a licence with you but you must have a valid ID document.

In all of the locations mentioned, except UK inland waterways, licence is not required for small boats like kayaks and canoes, that are not propelled by a boat motor.

A lot of people use those, close to the shore, in recreational or tourist purposes. If you have a boat like that, keep in mind that going far away from the shore can be dangerous, because of motor boat traffic.

Do you Need a License to Drive a Boat - for Fishing

Are there Different Types of Boat Licence?

There are different boating licences. And their names and requirements vary in almost every country. For anyone who wants to fish from a small boat, basic option available is enough. Of course, if you wish to operate a large and powerful boat, or a sailboat, you will need some sort of captains/skipper licence.

Except that, a lot of countries requires offshore licence for anyone that boats further away from the shore (there are different distance limits in different countries).

Having a licence is mandatory to rent a boat in most cases. Luckily, obtaining one is not difficult (more about this is going to be mentioned in the following chapters.)

As already mentioned, some European countries have different licence for sea and for rivers/lakes.

Also, keep in mind that boating is not allowed everywhere, especially on lakes and rivers. If you have a small boat for recreational purposes, check the local law before you use it.

How do You get a Boat Licence?

If you asked do you need a licence to drive a boat, now you have the answer. But how to obtain one?

Luckily, it is very easy. In all of the countries mentioned, and in almost every European country you may do it online. You can apply for it, pay, get the materials for learning if an exam is required and learn the rules. However, in some destinations, you may not take the test online.

The price is quite reasonable in all those locations. If you are paying for a course, make sure it is from a reputable provider.

In places like UK, you can just purchase a licence and get it immediately. If you need to pass a course and a test, don’t worry, it is not very complicated, and it can be done in a few days.

All the countries mentioned have one thing in common, and that is that no experience or boat driving lessons are required. It is just theory, no practice.

If you wish to obtain a skipper licence, then you need to demonstrate your skills.

Because of that, if you just got your boating licence, always be careful if you have no experience. Get to know the boat before you use it.

What can You use a Boat for?

Boats can be used in numerous purposes, but here we are going to focus on recreational ones.


If you are going on a vacation and would like to visit places that are inaccessible by land, then the boat is definitely for you.

Going away from crowded places and enjoying sun and sea at some beautiful beach is everyone’s dream. And to make it happen, you do not have to buy a boat. In all of the popular tourist locations boats are available for rent.


Fishing from a boat is a great experience. You can pick the best locations, go where the fish are and enjoy without interruption.

Boat fishing can be done on lakes, rivers and seas/oceans.

When buying/renting a boat for fishing, you have to pay attention to your fishing needs (more about this in the following chapter).


There is nothing better than relaxing on a boat and slowly cruising along a beautiful coastline. You may observe nature, cities or wildlife.

Panoramic views from a boat are truly amazing. And by driving your own boat you will have privacy and there will be no need to pay for expensive and overcrowded tour boats.


Having a boat for transportation is great in certain situations.

If you live in areas connected with canals or you live on an island close to the shore. Maybe you have a vacation home at a remote place and the easiest way to get there is by boat. Waters are usually less congested with traffic than roads, and using a boat for transport is both smart and enjoyable.

How do You Fish from a Boat?

Fishing from a boat is a great experience.

Some basic rules for boat fishing are the same as those for fishing from the shore.

You must choose the right baits and fishing gear, in accordance with fish you want to catch. The same goes for choosing the right time of a day and a season.

Beginners usually fish with their boat anchored ...

So, the technique is similar to fishing from the shore. Fishing from a moving boat is not something you should do alone with no experience.

There are some differences too. While fishing from a boat, you should use longer lines because of greater depths and distances.

With a boat, you can pick the ideal location for a certain fish species. When you arrive, try to make as little noise as possible while anchoring. Keep your boat motor turned off, not to scare the fish.

How to Choose a Boat for Beginners?

Buying/renting a boat depends of your personal preference and the desired usage. Boats for fresh and salt water are made from different materials and frequently they have different shape, especially those made for rivers.

Here we are going to list the things you need to pay attention to when choosing a boat for both fresh and salt water, and not on a specific boat manufacturers and models.

If you are inexperienced, get a small and not too powerful boat. Later you may upgrade when you gain some boat driving experience.

Small boats are easy to manoeuvre, transport, park, anchor and they can be used in shallow waters. When using your boat, safety comes first. Never go too far or drive it in bad weather conditions.

If you plan to fish, your boat, or even canoe or kayak has to be stable enough. If you are taking friends, make sure it can safely accommodate a few people. It must have a lot of storage space for fishing equipment and a place where you will store the fish you catch. And you have to pack enough food and water for your personal needs.

If you want to fish in summer during whole day, any form of awning or sun cover is mandatory.

You can save money by buying a used boat from a reputable seller. Insure it and service it regularly.

When choosing a specific model, check the availability of spare parts and certified mechanics in your country. Having a boat that is hard to maintain is both expensive and impractical.

If you are fishing on small lakes, think about canoes and kayaks. There are models made specially for fishing purposes.


Driving a boat can be dangerous if you do not know the basics, especially if you are surrounded by other boats.

Do you need a licence to drive a boat is a complex question. Every country has different laws and anyone who wants to use a boat, has to familiarize himself with the details.

Obtaining a licence is cheap and easy in almost every developed country. There are some exemptions for certain boat size and power.

If you are fishing from a boat, don’t forget to buy a fishing licence too, which is mandatory almost everywhere!

A lot of licences are internationally recognized so you can enjoy in both your country of residence and abroad on a vacation!

About Me

Slo-fishing - About Us


I am Siniša Pintar (friends call me Sina), the guy behind and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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