Do You Need a License to Ride a Jet Ski? (Info/links for All 50 States)


You just bought a shiny new jet ski and you can’t wait to take ‘er out on the water. As you’re getting ready for the day, your jet skiing buddy asks if you have your license. Their question stops you dead in your tracks. Do you really need a license to ride a jet ski?

In some states across the United States, local authorities will mandate that you have a personal watercraft or power vessel license to operate your jet ski. The license may be needed only for riding non-tidal waters or for all kinds of jet skiing.

Which states require you to have a jet ski license versus those that don’t? By the time you’re done reading this extensive guide, you won’t wonder anymore. We’re going state by state across the whole US and covering each of their respective jet ski laws. You’re definitely not going to want to miss this! 

Do You Need a License to Ride a Jet Ski? A State-by-State Breakdown

Alabama

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency states that in Alabama, you need a vessel license for using a personal watercraft or vessel, which we assume to mean a boat. You’d need the license as soon as 14 years of age if you wanted to ride a jet ski. 

Alaska

You can skip the jet ski license in Alaska, but you’ll still need to register your boat, says the Department of Administration’s Division of Motor Vehicles. That costs $24 for powered boats like a jet ski. 

Arizona

Arizona is another of those states that don’t require a license. 

Arkansas

Boat-Ed’s Official Arkansas Boating Safety Course Online states that if you were born on January 1, 1986 or after, you must have a license in the state when using a sailboat, personal watercraft (like a jet ski), or a motorboat. 

California

What about if you want to ride your jet ski in the open, sunny waters of California? The California Department of Parks and Recreation says that in this state, you need a California Boater Card if your jet ski is more than 15 horsepower (hp). To obtain this card, you’ll have to have gotten a passing grade in a safety education exam as administered through the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators or NASBLA. 

If you have a child between 12 and 15 years old and they’re supervised by a legal adult (over 18 years old) who has their California Boater Card and the jet ski is 15 hp or under, then the rider does not need their own California Boater Card. 

Colorado

Colorado has similar rules, states Boat-Ed. Once you’re at least 14 years old, you need a boater education card, which shows that you’ve taken the state’s boater safety course. Even if you’re visiting Colorado and you want to get your education card, the requirements to take the course online are that you’re 16 years old, not necessarily that you live in the state. 

Connecticut

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says that you need a Certificate of Personal Watercraft Operation to ride your jet ski in this state’s waters. Obtaining that certificate requires you to pass a course through the CT DEEP. 

Delaware 

Like in Colorado, Delawareans need a boating safety certification, which they can obtain offline at 14 years old and online at 16, says Boat-Ed. There are several exceptions, though. For one, if you have a Bay Pilot license, you’re exempt. That’s also true if you have a Delaware River Captain license or a U.S. Coast Guard license. 

Florida

If you want to ride your jet ski in Florida with your family and you have a child who’s not quite 14 years old, the state mandates that they cannot operate their jet ski even if they have a Florida Boating Safety Education I.D. Card, according to Boat-Ed. Also, you must be at least 18 years old to lease or rent a jet ski in the state.

Once you’re older than 14, you can obtain your Florida Boating Safety Education I.D. Card through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

Georgia

In the great state of Georgia, you don’t need a license, only a photo ID. 

Insurance company United Marine Underwriters states that a child between 12 to 15 years old can ride a jet ski legally if they pass a boat safety course. They also need a legal adult within 400 feet of them. 

Those 16 and older only need the photo ID. 

Hawaii

As you can surely imagine, jet skiing is a popular hobby in Hawaii, with the state’s Department of Boating and Ocean Recreation through the Department of Land and Natural Resources confirming as much. 

To keep everyone safe on their personal watercraft, in Hawaii, you must have passed a safety education course if your jet ski surpasses 10 hp. You also need to have your boating license on your person. 

Idaho

Idaho doesn’t require you to have a boating license, but if you have younger family members you ride with, take precautions. County ordinances across the state may limit where these younger riders can go and how fast they can operate their jet ski. 

Illinois 

Children 10 years old or younger cannot use a jet ski in Illinois, notes BoaterExam. Once your child turns 11 years old, you can accompany them on their jet skiing adventures. Between 12 and 18 years old, a child must have a Boating Education Certificate of Competency through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources if you can’t be there to supervise them. 

Indiana

Indiana state law requires that you have a driver’s license to use a personal watercraft or motorboat, so you don’t need to get another license. This rule has been in effect since 1996. 

Iowa

Like in many of the states we’ve discussed, in Iowa, younger jet skiers 12 to 17 years old must get their education certificate if their jet ski exceeds 10 hp, says the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Kansas

Kansas also has rules to protect younger riders, as those 12 to 20 years old need a boater education card, obtainable through successfully taking a boater safety course, says Boat-Ed

Kentucky

In Kentucky, the rules are established by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Boating. Riders 12 and up who will operate a jet ski over 10 hp need a Kentucky Safe Boating Certificate Card until they’re 17 years old. 

Louisiana

You’ll also find protections in place for younger jet skiers in Louisiana. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries says that anyone under 16 years old cannot use or rent a jet ski. It doesn’t appear you need a license to use a jet ski at 17 or older though.  

Maine

Maine also doesn’t require a license to use a jet ski, but that doesn’t mean you’re scot-free. This page on Maine boating laws says that younger riders up to 18 years old need proof they completed an education course. Also, at any age, you must have a Type 1 life jacket, a Type II life jacket, or a Type III. 

Maryland

No licenses are needed in Maryland, but the Maryland Department of Natural Resources says all jet ski riders need to be 16 years or older. Anyone born after July 1, 1972 needs a boating safety education certificate as well. 

Massachusetts 

Older riders don’t require a license to operate a jet ski in Massachusetts, but younger riders 12 to 15 years old should pass a boating course to go jet skiing without adult supervision, states Mass.gov

Michigan

Are you thinking of riding your jet ski in Michigan? Michigan.gov states that anyone born on July 1, 1996 or after needs to have received their boating safety certificate and keep it on their person when they go on the water. If you were born earlier than July 1, 1996, no such certificate is necessary. 

Minnesota

In Minnesota, adults don’t need a license, but younger riders can’t hit the waters as freely. Minnesota’s state laws require that persons under 13 not use a jet ski, that those over 13 have a legal adult supervising them, and that riders between 14 and 17 years old have a permit. 

Mississippi

Mississippi is one of those states that does require a license from riders of all ages. According to BoaterExam, in Mississippi, the document is called the Certificate of Number, which you can get through the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks. Your Certificate of Number is good for three years. 

Missouri

If you were born on January 1, 1984 or after, the Missouri State Highway Patrol requires you to take a Missouri Boater Education course and pass it. Then you’ll earn your boater identification card, which costs $15 to get. 

Montana

In Montana, younger riders up to 14 years old will have to pass a boating safety course to ride a jet ski unless they’re with a legal adult, states the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website. Riders older than that need not pass a safety course. 

Nebraska

No licenses are required in Nebraska, but a safety course certificate is mandated of any jet skiers born later than December 31, 1985, says Nebraska Game & Parks

Nevada

In Nevada, if you’re born on January 1, 1983 or later and your jet ski is 15 hp, you must have your boater education card on you, according to Boat-Ed. You can get your boater education card by taking a course online, in which the state has no age restrictions. 

New Hampshire

You only need a boating certificate in New Hampshire if your vessel goes faster than 20 miles per hour, is 13 feet and under, and has 25+ hp according to information on this page. If your boating license comes from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the U.S. Power Squadron, or NASBLA, it’s usable. 

New Jersey

In New Jersey, the Motor Vehicle Commission requires you to have a watercraft license for riding in non-tidal rivers, creeks, and lakes. Besides the license, you also need a New Jersey Boat Safety Certificate.

New Mexico

If you want to ride your jet ski in New Mexico, you will need a boater education card if your birthday is after January 1, 1989. New Mexico Game & Fish states that you must get your jet ski titled if it’s motorized and longer than 10 feet. You have to get the registration through the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division. 

New York

New York’s rules on jet skiing follow Brianna’s Law according to this New York Boating Safety page. In 2020, anyone born on January 1, 1993 or later needs a boating safety certificate. Everyone else must get a Boating Safety Card, even legal adults. 

North Carolina

Adults need not have a boating license in North Carolina to go jet skiing. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission states that if a rider was born on January 1, 1988 or later, they need to have taken a boasting education course if their jet ski is at least 10 hp and they want to ride in public waterways. 

North Dakota

Licenses aren’t needed for adults, but younger riders up to 15 years old need a boater education card obtained through a safety course if their jet ski is at least 10 hp. The North Dakota Game and Fish website mentions how every motorboat–which your jet ski fits the requirement–must have registration through the North Dakota Fish and Game Department. 

Ohio

In Ohio, a legal adult doesn’t need a license, but Boat-Ed states that jet skiers born on January 1, 1982 or later whose jet skis can reach 10 hp or up do need a safety certificate. 

Oklahoma

It’s a similar story in Oklahoma, where legal adults need no certificate but younger jet skiers between 12 and 15 years old will have to pass a safety course to get their certificate. This is according to a state boating laws page.

Oregon

A boater education card in Oregon is obtainable beginning at 12 years of age to use a jet ski up to 10 hp. With the card, a jet skier at that age up to 15 years old can ride without a legal adult present. They do need a legal adult if their jet ski surpasses 10 hp until they’re 16 years old, says the Oregon State Marine Board. Legal adults have no such requirements. 

Pennsylvania

Any jet skier in Pennsylvania needs a Boating Safety Education Certificate, states the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. That includes legal adults. Once you pass your exam, you never need to get another certificate, as yours is good for life.  

Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, their DEM Rhode Island page states that anyone born past January 1, 1986 must have a certificate. That’s also true of out-of-staters even if you were born earlier than the above date. 

South Carolina

Once you turn 16 years old in South Carolina, you have no restrictions around your jet ski riding, says this state rules page. Those under 16 years of age need a boating course certification through the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources if their jet ski is more than 15 hp. 

South Dakota

Although you don’t have to take a formal boating education course in South Dakota, the state does have rules about who can and can’t operate a jet ski and at which age. If your child is 12 or younger and the jet ski is at least 6 hp, they need a legal adult to supervise them or they cannot ride, says this boating laws page. 

Tennessee

We’ve written about the legal riding age for operating a jet ski in Tennessee on our blog. If you missed that post, you must be at least 12 years old and have a boater education certificate. Legal adults need a certificate as well to accompany young riders who don’t yet have their certification. 

Texas

If you like the warm southern waters of Texas, know the rules before you go. Their Texas Parks & Wildlife website states that a jet skier born on September 1, 1993 or later who’s operating any personal watercraft needs to take a boater education course. This course is $20 and covers basic concepts. 

Utah

We’ve also written about Utah jet ski rules on the blog. Here’s a recap. If a rider is between 12 and 15 years old and wants to ride a jet ski, they must be supervised by a legal adult. They also need to take Utah State Parks’ boating ed course, get their certification, and keep the certificate on their person when they operate the jet ski. 

Vermont

Anyone born past January 1, 1974 who wants to ride a personal watercraft in the state of Vermont needs a boater education card gained through passing a boater safety course. These rules are mandated by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.  

Virginia

If you plan on riding your jet ski in Virginia, since it counts as a motorized watercraft, you must have a boater education card, says Boat-Ed. Getting the card means first taking a boater education course. 

Washington

In 2005, Washington began changing its rules on jet ski licensing requirements, notes BoaterExam. From 2008 onward, if a jet skier or boater has not yet celebrated their 20th birthday, they need to take boating ed. As of 2016, jet skiers 12 years old and over must have a Boater Education Card, which is the state’s version of a license. 

West Virginia

West Virginia requires the West Virginia Boating License for jet skiers. The state page on BoaterExam says that any jet skier born past December 31, 1986 needs to have their state license to legally ride their jet ski.  

Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Boating Laws and Responsibilities rules through the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Boat-Ed says that if a rider is born after January 1, 1989, they must take a safety course to use a motorboat or personal watercraft. Otherwise, they must be with a legal adult who also has a boating safety certificate. 

Wyoming

You’re good to go without a license in Wyoming. 

Final Thoughts 

Jet skiing across the US has different rules and regulations from state to state. Most of these rules are in place to protect young riders who aren’t quite legal adults. Even if everyone in your party is 18+, don’t get lax. Many states require that jet skiers of any age have a certificate or license. 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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