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How to Apply For a Boating License in Virginia

Virginia does not require a boating license but requires boaters to take a boater safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and get a Boater Card. The regulatory authority for the course is the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The course requirements are to be met by boaters as stated by the law.

The card is mandatory for all PWC operators younger than 20 years of age on July 1, 2009, younger than 35 years of age on July 1, 2010, and those younger than 50 years of age by July 1, 2011. All motorboat operators need to complete this course by July 1, 2016 in the following phases: operators younger than 20 years must complete the course by July 1, 2011; operators 40 years or younger by July 1, 2013; operators 45 years or younger by July 1, 2014; and operators 50 years or younger by July 1, 2015.

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.


The following persons are exempt from the above requirements:

  • Boat operators having passed the boater safety course approved by the NASBLA or having passed an equivalent exam.
  • Operators renting a motorboat. The boat rental company must instruct such operators on how to operate the boat safely and give them a summary of the boating law as well as make sure he or she has completed the Dockside Safety Checklist.
  • Operators registered as a commercial fisherman or under the direct supervision of a commercial fisherman while operating the boat.
  • Operator substituting for the original operator who fell ill and taking the vessel to the shore.
  • A non-resident using Virginia waters temporarily for 90 days or less.


To obtain the Boater Education Card, you must complete a boater education course approved by the NASBLA, 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. Classroom options approved by the NASBLA and authorized by the VDGIF are offered by the U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary, US Power Squadron, VDGIF and America's Boating Course.
  2. The card issued after a classroom course is recognized in most other states, and by many insurance companies for insurance discounts.
  3. Six approved online options offered by American Boating Education, Boat Ed,, Boat U.S., Delaunay Communications and Nautical Know How, Inc.
  4. Course materials are free. Some providers charge a fee for exams or the card: check providers' websites for details.
  5. A temporary card may be printed after passing the online exam; the permanent card will be mailed to you.
  6. The option of studying at home using approved course material, and passing a proctored exam. America's Boating Course offers this option.


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


To replace a card, contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with proof of course completion. Students who took the exam online may obtain a duplicate card by contacting their providers, and for a fee - check the providers' websites for details.


  • While liability insurance is not mandatory for boating in Virginia, it is a good idea to have liability insurance to tide over troubles if you or some one operating your boat is involved in a boating accident.
  • Read the course material for the Boater Safety Education Requirements.
  • See how to register your boat in Virginia.
  • Check the contact information of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

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