Welcome to Alabama's Freshwater Coast

Do You Need A Boating License In Alabama?

So you’ve booked the trip, and feel like everything is prepared.  You have found a place to stay, and even rented a boat to have waiting on you once you arrive at the lake.  Now, you get to sit back and just dream of those lake days with the sun shining on your face, the thrill of the watersports that await you, and of course, catching a beautiful Lake Martin sunset while out on the open water.  Everything seems perfect-and trust me, it is.  This is going to be the most epic vacation ever!  However-there is one more thing on your checklist that you need to look into before that lake vacay if you are planning on boating being a part of your time here. 

If you are going to be filling the role of boat captain for your crew while you are here, you need to check and see if you need a boating license.  The rules are a little different for different people, so we will lay it all out here for you-and give you resources to learn more. 

Do you need a boating license if you are an Alabama resident? 

If you are an Alabama resident, you do need a boating license.  Residents 12 and older can technically get a license, but nobody under 14 is able to operate a boat by themselves.  Operators 12 or 13 years old, after obtaining the vessel operator’s license, can only operate if there is someone 21 years old or older on board, who also has a vessel operator’s license in possession, and is seated in a position to take immediate control of the vessel if necessary.  Operators 14 years old or older, after obtaining the vessel operator’s license, can legally operate without supervision. It is important to note that no one under the age of 12 is allowed to operate any motorized vehicle-this even includes things like a Sea Doo or Waverunner.

Do you need a boating license if you are NOT an Alabama resident? 

girl driving boat

If you are not an Alabama resident, you are allowed to operate a boat here for up to 45 days per year with no license.  If you are going to be boating more than that though, you will be required to have a boating license.  Also, I can’t stress enough that even if a boating license is not formally required, you are required to know how to be safe on the water. Check out Boating Safety 101: Tips for a Safe Day of Boating on Lake Martin and Lake Martin Resource Association’s Buoy Guidelines. Russell Marine offers annual boating safety classes every spring-and even does one just for ladies. It’s a Girls Day Out with a mission! Singleton Marine also does a series of driving and docking clinics throughout the summer. Also, please make sure you know all of the boating rules in Alabama before you hit the water.

How do you get an Alabama Boat Operators Certification/License? 

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency lists these instructions on their website:

  1. Applicant must go to the Department of Public Safety Driver’s License Examining Office in their county of residence.
  2. Make application and pay appropriate fee ($5).
  3. Answer medical questions.
  4. Successfully complete written/oral exam or show proof of exemption (boating course certificate of completion or age exemption).
  5. Take the proper form to an ALEA driver license exam office to have the “V” class placed on driver’s license.

Proof of Age: All minors must furnish a certified copy of their birth certificate, their original social security card, and a certified statement from the superintendent of the school which the person attends containing name, date of birth, and address.

Cost of Certification: A one-time application fee of $5.00 cash will be charged. There will be a $36.25 issuance fee for the license.

How do you get out of taking the exam?  

There are a few exceptions that will exclude you from having to take the exam:

1. Holder of a valid United States Coast Guard Motorboat Operator’s License

2. Person submitting a valid certificate of successful completion of:

    A) United States Power Squadron Boating Course

    B) United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Boating Course

    C) Any State of Alabama Marine Patrol Division approved boating course:

          i) Boat Alabama classroom course

          ii) State approved online boating course: Boat-Ed.com and BoaterExam.com

3. Any boat operator who was born prior to April 28, 1954

Our Tips

man driving boat near chimney rock


A great day on the water is a safe day on the water.  While we do want you to make sure you have a boating license if it is required, our biggest concern is for you to be safe.  If you are stressed and don’t know how to operate your boat or watercraft, you are not going to have a great time.  You will also put yourself and others in danger.  Take a class, learn the rules, and ask questions before you hit the water. That knowledge will make you more confident on the water, and will make your day so much better!

Happy Boating!