In most U.S. states, if you want to be able to operate a boat of any sort, you have to obtain a boating license. Some states allow you to operate a vessel without a license, and you only have to complete some sort of boater education course. Boating license application procedures are not the same in all states, so you have to check what your state's DMV requires from applicants. In some states, though, it's not the DMV that issues boating licenses, but some other government agency, such as a parks and recreation department. Applying for a boating license is not so complicated, but you should gather information about the documentation and the fees that are required in your state in order to obtain a license as quickly as possible.
Click on the map below for information specific to each state.
Most states don't allow people that are younger than 12 to operate a boat of any kind. Kids that are over 12 years old may operate a vessel, but they have to meet certain requirements. For example, some states don't allow people aged under 16 to operate a vessel with more than 15 horsepower. On the other hand, there are states where you can operate a boat with more than 15 horsepower even if you are under 16 years of age, if you have a Boating Safety Education ID card. You can obtain a Boating Safety Education ID card by completing a boater education course. It's a course that is intended to teach you how to operate a vessel safely, and provide you with advice on boat maintenance. Completing a safety course may also help you get lower insurance rates, and it's a good way to learn the legal requirements with regards to boating. A typical boater education course includes a 5-6 hour class where an instructor provides you with all the information regarding boater safety, and how to react in an emergency, and you don't have to take a test after the class is over. You just receive a certificate for completing the course. After you complete the course, you are required to carry the boating safety education ID card every time you operate a boat.
If you live in a state where a boating license is required, you have to go to your local DMV or whatever agency handles boating licenses, and present the Boating Safety Education Certificate, and pay the required fee, which varies from one state to another, but it costs less than $20 in most states.