Instead of requiring a boating license in Michigan, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) requires most personal watercraft operators to obtain a boat safety certificate. In general, this certificate can only be obtained after the successful completion of a boaters safety course that is approved by the DNR. Despite the fact that there are boat operators who do not need to obtain a boating safety certificate in order to operate a boat or personal watercraft, it is highly recommended for all operators of motorized vessels on Michigan waterways to enroll in an educational course.

The course is recommended by both state conservation officers and county sheriffs because it can help boat motorists learn proper procedures and techniques for a safer and more enjoyable boating experience. To learn more about enrolling in a boating course and getting your certificate, read the sections below.

Do you need a license to drive a boat in Michigan?

Many states require boating licenses in order for motorists to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft. However, only a Michigan boater safety card is required in the state. As a general rule, boaters who were born after June 30th, 1996 and personal watercraft operators who were born after December 31st, 1978 must have a boater education card in order to operate their vessels.

They can operate a boat legally only if they have been issued the certificate after completing the proper educational course. Furthermore, motorists born on or before June 30th, 1996 may operate a boat legally without any imposed restrictions.

If you are younger than 12 years of age and seeking a boating license in MI, be mindful that you may be able to operate a boat without restrictions depending on the horsepower (h.p.) of the vessel. As such, boaters who are younger than 12 years of age may legally operate a boat in the following circumstances:

  • There are no restrictions if the boat is powered by a motor with 6 h.p. or less.
  • Young boats may only operate a boat with more than 6 h.p. if they have been issued a Michigan boater safety card and they have it on board the boat. Moreover, there is an accompanying supervisor of at least 16 years of age on board.
  • Under no conditions can young motorists operate a boat powered by a motor with more than 35 h.p.

The boating regulations for operating a personal watercraft are slightly different. For those wondering who may operate a personal watercraft, the rules are as follows:

  • Residents younger than 14 years of age may not legally operate a personal watercraft such as a jet ski or wave runner.
  • Motorists between 14 and 15 years of age may legally operate a personal watercraft if they have obtained a boating safety certificate. Furthermore, these residents must be accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or a person designated by the parent or legal guardian who is at least 21 years of age. Otherwise, these boats must operate the personal watercraft at a distance of no farther than 100 feet from a parent, legal guardian or a person designated by the parent or legal guardian who is at least 21 years of age.
  • Residents who are at least 16 years of age and were born after December 31st, 1978 may legally operate a personal watercraft if they have obtained the safety certificate.
  • Motorists who were born on or before December 31st, 1978 may legally operate a personal watercraft without restrictions.

Michigan Boat License Requirements

There is no minimum boating license age requirement for residents to legally obtain a safety certificate in Michigan. This means that boaters of all ages can obtain a safety certificate if they wish to do so. However, as per boat license requirements, there are certain boat operators that must obtain a certificate.

Boaters born after June 30th, 1996 and personal watercraft operators born after December 31st, 1978 must enroll in boating classes in order to obtain a certificate so that they can legally operate their vessels. Just like it is the case with MI driver’s licenses, these boating credentials are required for residents to legally operate these types of vehicles in the state.

Getting a Boat License in Michigan

If you are wondering how to get a boating license/certificate, you must enroll in and successfully complete a course from an approved boat education school. To do so, you must:

  1. Enroll in the approved school of your choice through the methods required by that program.
  2. Study the information provided in the course.
  3. Pass the exam.
  4. Pay the applicable course fee, which is only required once you pass the exam.
  5. Receive or print your safety card.

Michigan Boater Safety Courses

Boating education consists of learning important information about safety standards and boating techniques in Michigan. Depending on your county of residence, you may either enroll in an online boating course or a classroom course. There are many topics that are covered in the course, and although the specifics may vary depending on the program you choose, you will typically learn about:

  • Parts of a boat.
  • Fueling a boat.
  • Docking and casting off.
  • Traffic laws of the waterways.
  • Anchoring.
  • Boating emergencies.

Renewing and Replacing a Michigan Boating License

If you are wondering, “Do boating licenses expire?” you must be aware that certificates issued in Michigan do not expire. Therefore, these credentials do not need to be renewed.

Once you have obtained this certificate, make sure that you keep it on board. If you need to replace your certificate because it got lost or damaged, contact the program that provided you with the card and follow the instructions that they provide.

Michigan Boat Registration Basics

All watercraft, unless specifically exempt, must be registered in Michigan and display valid boat registration stickers. Moreover, hand-powered (propelled by oars or paddles) watercraft over 16 feet must also be registered.

On the other hand, watercraft that are exempt from registration include vessels that are 16 feet or shorter and hand-powered, non-motorized canoes and kayaks. Nonetheless, watercraft registered in another state may be temporarily used in MI without needing a state-issued registration.

A three-year watercraft registration will be issued upon completion of an application form and payment of the applicable fees. Generally, these fees will vary depending on the type of watercraft and its length. Once the registration expires, a renewal must be completed either online, in person or by mail.

Michigan Boating Rules and Regulations

You must abide by certain boating regulations in Michigan in order to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft. These regulations are set in place to help keep everyone safe. A few practices that are illegal according to MI rules include, but are not limited to:

  • Reckless operation: Weaving your vessel through waterway traffic, harassing/disturbing wildlife or causing damage from the wake of your vessel.
  • Failure to regulate speed: Operating in excess of 55 m.p.h. unless you are at least one mile offshore on the Great Lakes or Lake St. Clair.
  • Improper distance: Not maintaining a proper distance of at least 100 feet from a shoreline, moored or anchored vessel, dock or raft, marked swimming area or person in the water.
  • Boating in restricted areas: Operating a vessel in a restricted area that is clearly marked by buoys, beacons or diver-down flags.

Furthermore, there are specific boating license rules set in place by the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the personal floatation devices and other equipment that is necessary. For example, all vessels must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device available for each person on board or being towed.

All of this information regarding boating laws and restrictions is important to understand in order to keep everyone on the waterway safe. You can learn more about this information by enrolling in an education course and/or reading through Michigan’s “Boating Laws and Responsibilities Handbook.”

Michigan Boating License Fees

The fees for a boat safety certificate vary depending on the course that you enroll in. Typically, you will pay $29.50 once you successfully pass the course exam in order to get your certificate.

Last updated on Friday, March 6 2020.