There is a restriction on the age of boat operators. If you are under 14 years of age, you cannot operate a personal vessel. Boaters between the age of 14 and 16 require a Boater Education Course Certificate unless they are under the supervision of a person at least 18 years of age. You must carry the certificate and proof of age onboard at all times.

North Carolina requires a Boater Education Card for boaters, and not a boating license. The regulatory authority for the card is North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

The boating laws of the state require that the person operating a boat should not be under the influence of intoxicants. The legal limit of the blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% and if arrested for a higher BAC, harsh penalties may be imposed on the operator, based on the severity of the offense as well as the previous number of such convictions.


To obtain the Boater Education Course Certification you must complete a boater education course approved by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, or pass an approved equivalency test.

In an approved course, students learn how to operate and maintain their boats, the legal requirements for boating, and what to do in emergencies. This ensures that boating remains a safe and fun experience.

There are various approved ways you can complete the course and obtain the card:

  1. Three classroom options offered by North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary or US Power Squadron.
    • The course duration is 6-8 hours.
    • The North Carolina Wildlife Resources offers a free boating safety education course which is NASBLA approved.
    • U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary charges a fee ranging between $20 and $50 for the course.
    • To pass the course, you must get 80% of the answers right on the exam administered at the end of the course.
  2. The Boater Education Course Certification is either handed out at the end of class, or mailed to you within 45 days.
  3. Only the card issued after a classroom course is recognized in most other states, and by many insurance companies for insurance discounts.
  4. Three approved online options offered by Boat Ed, Boat U.S. Foundation and American Boat Operators Course.
  5. These courses may take up to 8 hours to complete; some options require you to complete the course in one sitting.
  6. Course materials are free. Some providers charge a fee for exams or the card: check providers’ websites for details.
  7. A temporary card may be printed after passing the online exam; the permanent card will be mailed to you.


The card is permanent. There is no need to renew it.



  • While liability insurance is not mandatory for boating in North Carolina, it is a good idea to have liability insurance to tide over troubles if you or someone operating your boat is involved in a boating accident.
  • Read the course material for the Boater Education Course.
  • See how to register your boat in North Carolina.
  • Check the contact information of North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
  • Check the Vessel operator’s guide.
Last updated on Friday, November 9 2018.

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