While a boating license is not technically required for operators of water vessels in the District of Columbia, all boat drivers are obligated to pass a state-approved education program before getting on the water. How to get a boating license does not change based on the age of the applicant, though state boating rules do change according to the boater’s age. All boaters must keep proof of passing an applicable course with them at all times when operating a water vessel. Unlike in some states, Washington D.C. does not have special licensing procedures for personal watercraft (PWC).

Residents of D.C. can sign up for an online boating license course or enroll in an in-person program taught in their local area. All boat operators must adhere to state rules and regulations governing waterways throughout the state. Failure to stay within the law can result in legal consequences and even criminal charges for the driver. Boat services are overseen by the Metropolitan Police Department Harbor Patrol in Washington D.C. Keep reading to learn more about getting a license to boat in D.C.

Do you need a license to drive a boat in Washington D.C.?

A boat certification is required by anyone who would like to operate a water vessel over 16 feet in length in the District of Columbia, regardless of his or her age. Although taking an education program is not exactly the same as getting a boat license, this is the state’s process for registering boaters without requiring that boaters continuously renew their permits. The state government also accepts proofs of completion from similar National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) courses taught elsewhere in the country.

Washington D.C. Boat License Requirements

There is no official boating license age in Washington D.C., but minors can only operate if they have completed an applicable course or are under the supervision of a licensed adult. No other significant requirements exist for drivers in the District of Columbia. D.C. drivers of almost any age can choose to enroll in a state-approved education program either online or in-person.

Getting a Boat License in Washington D.C.

Where to get a boating license in Washington D.C. depends on how a boater would like to take the approved course and is not affected by eligibility requirements. “How long does it take to get a boating license in Washington D.C.?” is an important question to ask yourself. Most boaters are able to complete both the online and in-person courses within an afternoon or day program. Boat operators taking an online course can spread out the course over as much time is needed before taking the final course exam.

Once a boater has decided to take a boater safety course, he or she must choose between the approved options online and in person. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Harbor Patrol offers one-day intensive boating classes during boating season. Interested parties must sign up for these classes by contacting the organizers beforehand. This course is free of charge and students need only bring their photo identifications to participate.

D.C. boat operators who would like to take an online boaters safety course have a few different providers they can choose from. The Harbor Patrol offers a list of companies offering courses that are currently approved by the state. Signing up for these courses is usually a matter of making a quick profile and reviewing the detailed study guide before taking a course exam. Once the exam is passed, the student must pay the license fee and print the certificate of completion as proof of meeting state requirements. A permanent certificate will usually be mailed to the driver in three to five weeks.

Washington D.C. Boater Safety Courses

All Washington D.C. drivers are expected to complete an approved boating course before operating any water vessel over 16 feet in length, either online or in a classroom. These boating education courses cover topics that are important to drivers of all experience levels, including the best practices for remaining safe and particularities about D.C. rules and regulations governing the waterways. Even boaters who recently moved to D.C. from out-of-state can benefit from reviewing the state-specific policies reviewed in the course.

Students enrolling in a state-approved boating school can expect to learn more about how to safely operate a variety of types of water vessels, the basics of nautical navigation, the risks of boating accidents and reporting requirements and much more. The D.C. boater’s study guide includes the following six units:

  1. Before Getting Underway
  2. Getting Out on the Water
  3. Navigation and Safe Operation
  4. Washington D.C.’s Legal Requirements of Boating
  5. Boating Emergencies
  6. Enjoying Water Sports

Renewing and Replacing a Washington D.C. Boating License

D.C. boat operators should keep their boat safety certificate from passing the necessary education program with them at all times when boating. If a driver somehow loses or damages his or her boat card, he or she should immediately request a duplicate card from the necessary authority.

If a boat driver’s certificate is not on record, he or she should contact the company that provided the certificate for further directions on getting a duplicate. Replacements should arrive by mail in three to five weeks.

Do boating licenses expire in the District of Columbia? Because boaters do not technically get licenses but are instead issued a boater education card, these permits do not expire and do not need to be renewed at any point. Once a D.C. resident has passed the requisite course exam, he or she can legally operate a water vessel over 16 feet anywhere in the state.

Washington D.C. Boat Registration Basics

According to the Police Department Harbor Patrol in Washington D.C., boat registration and title is required by all water vessels based in the District. This means that a boat title and registration are required for motorized water vessels and kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, sailboats, jet skis and other watercraft. Water vessels harbored in D.C. for more than 50 consecutive days are considered based in the state. Applications for registration and title must be submitted by mail to the harbor authority and renewed regularly. To be eligible, boat owners must be able to provide proof of ownership and pay the necessary application fee.

All boat owners must display the necessary boat registration stickers on the appropriate location of their water vessel to prove current validity. During the registration process, all water vessels are given a unique identification number that they keep. Failure to correctly register or title any type of water vessel in Washington D.C. will result in legal consequences and restrictions for the boat owner.

Washington D.C. Boating Rules and Regulations

D.C. boating rules were designed to protect boaters, swimmers and others enjoying the state’s waterways while also protecting the area’s natural resources. As a result, many state boating regulations dictate the type of equipment that must be on a water vessel for it to be considered safe. These rules include having personal flotation devices (PFDs), emergency signaling systems and more.

Many of these boat requirements depend on the type of water vessel being used, the purpose it is used for and the number of passengers abroad the ship. Here is a list of some of the most important boat laws that operators of all water vessels should keep in mind when boating in D.C.:

  • All water vessels must have at least one wearable, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved life jacket on board for every person on the boat or being towed by the boat at all times.
  • All life jackets must fit appropriately according to the age, weight and activity of expected occupants and be in proper, usable condition.
  • All water vessels over 16 feet in length must have at least one throwable USCG-approved PFD.
  • Passengers on all water vessels who are 13 years of age or younger must wear an USCG-approved life jacket at all times when the boat is in motion unless the child is below deck.
  • When the operator of a water vessel 16 feet in length or more is under 18 years of age, the operator and all passengers under 18 years of age must wear an USCG-approved life jacket at all times when the boat is in motion unless below deck.
  • All water vessels must be equipped with proper navigation lights to be used when away from the dock between sunset and sunrise and during periods of restricted visibility.
  • All motorized water vessels must have a suitable sound producing system on board to signal for help in the case of an emergency. Water vessels less than 65.6 feet in length are required to carry a whistle, horn or some other means to make an efficient sound. Vessels over 65.6 feet are required to carry a sound-making device that is audible for at least one mile.

Washington D.C. Boating License Fees

The in-person boaters safety course taught by the Metropolitan Police Department Harbor Patrol is free of charge for residents of Washington D.C. Most online courses approved by the state carry a standard course fee of about $30, though boaters may be able to find some NASBLA-approved e-courses online for free.

Last updated on Friday, March 6 2020.