To obtain a boating license in Tennessee, some adults and minors over a certain age are required to enroll in and complete a state-approved education program. To learn more about how to get a boating license in Tennessee, interested residents can review the information provided by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) which oversees all boating-related services in the state. Eligibility requirements to be able to legally operate a boat in Tennessee are based on the size and horsepower of the vessel being operated along with the age of the driver.

Boat drivers may request an online boating license but cannot complete the entire application process online. All water vessels being driven in TN waters need to be registered and titled with the TWRA before they can legally be operated on state waterways by any driver. Boaters who misplace or destroy their boat certification can request a duplicate from the necessary authorities. All applicants for first-time or replacement boating permits must pay the appropriate course fee for their license request to be processed. Tennessee boat operators are subject to state laws and policies governing the operation of motored vehicles in the state roadway system. Keep reading to learn more about licenses for boaters in Tennessee.

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

According to Tennessee state law, getting a boat license is necessary for any person who was born after January 1, 1989 and who would like to operate a boat with eight and a half or more horsepower in Tennessee waters without the supervision of a licensed adult. Adults born before January 1, 1989 are encouraged to complete boater’s education but not required to legally drive a boat.

This boat safety certificate requirement applies both to residents and non-residents of the state of Tennessee. Non-resident boat operators can provide proof of taking an acceptable National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) course to meet this requirement.

Tennessee Boat License Requirements

There is a boating license age of 12 to legally operate a boat independently without any supervision in Tennessee waters. The specific boating license requirements that are applicable to a driver vary depending on the age of the driver. Drivers who would like to operate a boat and who were born after January 1, 1989 must meet one the following requirements:

  • Successfully complete the TWRA Boating Safety Exam and receive a Boating Safety Education Certificate.
  • Provide proof of completing an equivalent NASBLA-approved course for non-residents.

Getting a Boat License in Tennessee

Boat drivers can find out where to get a boating license in their area by looking at the TWRA’s list of available contacts. Drivers must be at least 12 years of age to sign up for a state-approved education program.

How long does it take to get a boating license for eligible drivers in Tennessee? Boaters who would like to receive the necessary boating course certification can take the following steps:

  1. Carefully review the Study Guide for Tennessee Boater Education Certificate. This is the information that will be on the state licensing exam.
  2. Go to a hunting and fishing licensing agent near you to purchase a Type 600 Boating Safety Exam Permit. You will need to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) and driver’s license at the time of purchase.
  3. Locate your nearest TWRA exam location and sign up for an exam spot. Only drivers born BEFORE January 1, 1989 can enroll in an online boating course.
  4. Take the exam. It should last about an hour.
  5. If you pass, you will receive a temporary certification to use while you wait to receive your permeant certification document in the mail within a few weeks.
  6. If you do not pass the exam, you can retake the exam as many times as necessary with the same permit.

Tennessee Boater Safety Courses

The boaters safety course that is necessary for many TN boat operators is a review of important practical and safety principles behind driving a boat. After completing the boating education course, it is expected that the driver will have a strong handle on how to operate a typical water vessel under a range of conditions both inside Tennessee and elsewhere outside of state boundaries. An example of some of the important topics covered in TN boating classes include but are not limited to:

  • Encountering other vessels.
  • Navigation rules.
  • Nighttime navigation.
  • U.S. aids to navigation systems (ATON).
  • Weather emergencies.
  • Registering your vessel.
  • Hull Identification Number.
  • Unlawful operation.
  • Boating near dams.
  • Discharge of waste.

Tennessee residents born before January 1, 1989 can sign up for boating lessons at any TWRA boating location. Adults born before that date can sign up for an online boaters safety course to receive valid certification. Signing up for a course is as simple as contacting the host agency to place your name by phone or email before the beginning of the next course.

Renewing and Replacing a Tennessee Boating License

Do boating licenses expire in Tennessee? Boating licenses or education certificates do not expire in the state of Tennessee. Drivers who have passed the TN boater exam and received their license but misplaced or destroyed their physical card have a couple of options for replacement.

If the driver received his or her card by visiting a TWRA agent in-person, he or she should be able to request a copy directly from the TWRA. Drivers who completed an online course or course through a third-party should contact the managing company of the course for a duplicate license. In most cases, the driver will have to pay a fee for the duplicate, which will be mailed to his or her address within approximately two weeks of the request.

Tennessee Boat Registration Basics

A valid Tennessee boater registration, in the form of a Certificate of Number, if required for all water vessels with more than 8.5 horsepower. A boat title or registration is not required by any type of paddleboat in Tennessee. Unlike a TN maritime license, the registration of a boat expires within a period of one, two or three years after application submission.

Boat owners in Tennessee can get their boat tags by visiting a TWRA office and paying the necessary tax fees before mailing or dropping off a registration application directly to the TWRA. Once registered and titled, the driver should keep these documents with the vessel at all times to be available for immediate inspection by officials if requested.

Tennessee Boating Rules and Regulations

The TWRA has laid out a number of boating regulations and rules to govern Tennessee waterways and keep boat occupants and swimmers safe at all times. Tennessee law is very clear about the boat requirements that operators are obligated to meet to stay up to safety standards.

Here are some of the boating laws set out by the TWRA that drivers must be familiar with before taking the licensing exam or attempting to drive a boat. Some important boating laws that Tennessee boat operators should be aware of include:

  • All boats registered in Tennessee must have at least one USCG-approved wearable personal flotation device (PFD), for each person on board.
  • One throwable PFD must also be on board at all times.
  • Children 12 years of age or younger must wear a PFD at all times.
  • All vessels over 26 feet in length must have a Type B fire extinguisher on board.
  • Most boats must carry some form of day and night signaling system for emergencies.

There are other Tennessee boating laws that govern appropriate boating behavior on the waterways and the consequences for breaking these rules. In effect, any operator boating without a license is expected to follow the same basic rules as when operating a motor vehicle on the road. Consuming alcohol or drugs is strictly prohibited when driving a boat. Other important TN boating rules for drivers to note include:

  • A penalty of up to $2,500 and six months in jail for reckless, negligent or dangerous boat operation.
  • Reckless operation of a boat can include driving closely to a designated swimming area, weaving in and out of a concentrated waterway or chasing or harassing wildlife.
  • Prohibition of using improper speed or distance from other moving vehicles, such as coming within 300 feet of a commercial vehicle with a speed higher than idle.
  • A prohibition against fishing or operating a boat below or too close to a dam.
  • Prohibited from using a firearm for any reason other than hunting or outside of regular hunting season.
  • Any boater involved in an accident must immediately stop at the scene and offer assistance to involved parties if necessary

Tennessee Boating License Fees

The cost to complete a boat license test in Tennessee is the cost to buy the exam permit, which is currently $10. This permit can be reused until the applicant passes the necessary exam.

Last updated on Friday, March 6 2020.