All Virginia residents are required to get a boating license in order to legally operate a Personal Watercraft (PWC) or a motorized vehicle over a certain horsepower. How to get a boating license is determined by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), which oversees most boater services in the state. To legally operate a boat in VA waterways, boaters are required to enroll in and pass a state-approved education program. These courses cover the basics of boater safety and the laws and regulations that govern Virginia territory.

New boat boaters can enroll in an online boating license program or attend an in-person course taught through any participating program found in the state. Once completed, the licensed driver is obligated to keep proof of course completion on his or her person at all times when operating a water vessel. Some state-approved courses carry an enrollment fee while others are completely free of charge. Keep reading to discover more about licenses for boaters in Virginia.

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

As of 2016, all Virginia residents are required to possess the necessary boat certification to legally operate any type of PWC or motorized boat over 10 horsepower anywhere in the state. Similar to getting a driving license, all boating license applicants must also take and pass approved education courses.

The VDGIF does offer a reciprocity agreement for boaters who have completed any program approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) out of Virginia. This means, that boaters that have passed an education course in or out of the state are still eligible for a boating certificate.

Virginia Boat License Requirements

Instead of actually issuing boating licenses, the VDGIF requires that all boat operators take a state-approved education program and provide proof of course completion in lieu of an actual permit. The boating license age limit to receive the necessary education certification in Virginia is 14 years of age.

This restriction applies to the operation of all PWCs and motorboats. No other significant boat license requirements restrict access to certification for boaters in Virginia. As stated previously, a license is not necessary for water vessels without a motor or with a motor that has less than 10 horsepower.

Getting a Boat License in Virginia

Boaters choosing where to get a boating license must first decide whether they would like to enroll in an online or a classroom-based course. Various versions of the boaters safety course approved by the VDGIF are provided by U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, U.S. Power Squadrons and VDGIF representatives at locations across the state. These courses generally carry a standard enrollment fee except for programs managed directly by VDGIF, which offers the course for free to the public. All programs provide the necessary course materials.

Boaters who would like to go for an online boating license have a few different options to choose from as well. Multiple companies offer VDGIF-approved boating classes that can be taken at any time and place to meet the state’s education requirement. Online programs are taught completely online but in an interactive manner that requires the student’s interaction with the course material. Most of these courses carry a standard enrollment fee that is protected by a “no pass, no pay” protection. Signing up for an online program is as simple as contacting one of the state’s recommended web providers to fill out a request and start the independent course.

Virginia Boater Safety Courses

The state-approved boating course that allows Virginia residents to legally drive PWCs and motorized water vessels covers important topics concerning how to technically operate water vessels and stay within state law at all times. Most new boat boaters are able to complete the course in a day, while students taking the course online can take as much time as they like to go through the program.

Before receiving a VA boat safety certificate, boaters will learn the basics of operating a variety of types of water vessels. They will also review the most commonly needed rules and regulations specific to boating in Virginia.

Renewing and Replacing a Virginia Boating License

Whether a driver decides to get a boating license online or in-person, he or she must carry prove of having completed the necessary program with him or her at all times when driving a water vessel. Boating without a license is illegal in Virginia and will result in legal trouble for the driver in question.

For this reason, boaters who have lost or destroyed their certificate of completion should immediately request a duplicate. Both students who took the course online and those who took it in-person can request a duplicate for a processing fee.

Do boating licenses expire in Virginia? Boat boaters do not technically get licenses in Virginia, they get certificates of completion for the necessary education program. As such, this “license” never expires and does not need to be renewed at any point.

Virginia Boat Registration Basics

In Virginia, a boat registration is required by all motorized boats that are used within the state. A boat title should be requested when registering if the owner is not already in possession of an up-to-date title document. All titling and registration procedures for water vessels are overseen by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). All motorized water vehicles must be correctly registered and titled before heading out on Virginia waterways.

Registered water vessels should display the boat registration stickers given by the DMV in the correct location to be easily seen by the necessary officials. Upon application for registration, the boat owner will receive a temporary registration document that is valid for 90 days until he or she receives his or her permanent registration card in the mail.

Virginia Boating Rules and Regulations

An important part of passing a Virginia boaters safety course is learning about how to safely operate different types of water vessels in a variety of conditions within state law. Virginia boating regulations were created in an effort to keep boaters and swimmers safe while on state waterways.

Some of these boat requirements concern the equipment that must be kept on the water vessel to be up to safety standards. A sample of Virginia boating laws that boaters should keep in mind when operating a water vessel anywhere in the state includes:

  • All water vessels must have at least one wearable, U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket on board for every boat occupant at all times.
  • All life jackets must be up to code, appropriate for expected activity, readily accessible and in usable condition.
  • All water vessels 16 feet or longer must have at least one throwable Type IV USCG-approved personal flotation device.
  • All water vessels 16 feet or longer must be equipped with a visual distress signaling system when operating in coastal waters (rivers 2 miles or wider). Sailboats under 26 feet in length are only required to carry a night signaling system.
  • Boaters are prohibited from operating any water vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Boaters found to be driving under the influence will face criminal penalties akin to driving a car while intoxicated.
  • If an accident occurs, boaters are required to stop and provide assistance. Afterward, they must report the incident within 10 days to the DMV.
  • All boats must exhibit the necessary signal lights from sunset to sunrise when out on the water.

Virginia Boating License Fees

The cost for VA boating lessons depends on where the student has signed up for the course. He or she can expect to pay an enrollment fee of somewhere between $25 and $50.

Boating courses taught by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary tend to be more affordable than courses taught by other providers. Boaters who must request a replacement card can expect to pay a $10 processing fee to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for a duplicate.

Last updated on Friday, March 6 2020.