Legal Age for Driving a Jet Ski in North Carolina


Each state in the United States has its own boating laws and when it comes to North Carolina the laws are unique. Below is the legal age for driving a jet ski, and more information about North Carolina’s boating rules.

A person 14 years or older may operate a PWC once they get their boaters safety education card from an approved course. If a 14-year-old or person older does not have their boaters card, they can still operate a PWC if supervised by someone 18 years or older with a valid boaters safety education card.

Steps to Becoming a Young Operator

There are 3 easy steps to getting your North Carolina’s boating safety education card:

  1. Enroll in a NASBLA-approved North Carolina boating safety course. There are two options of the course: online or instructor-led.
  2. Once you successfully complete the course and pass the exam with an 80 percent or higher you are one step closer to getting your card.
  3. Once you print out your temporary card and set up a permanent card to be sent to you in the mail you are ready to hit the water!

The most popular method for completing the course is online at boaterexam.com. You can study North Carolina’s boating safety manual and go through the course at your own pace so you can feel ready to take the test when you are prepared.

You do not have to have your drivers license to get a boaters license in North Carolina. If you plan on moving to North Carolina in the future you have the choice to take the North Carolina course online and receive your card before you even move there. In other words, you do not have to be a resident of North Carolina to get a boater safety education card from there.

Understanding North Carolina’s Boating Rules

  • No operating a PWC between sunset and sunrise
  • No person under 14-years-old may operate a PWC
  • Every person on board must be wearing a life jacket that fits and is approved by the US Coast Guard
  • The lanyard-type cut-off switch must be attached to the driver of the PWC
  • There needs to be at least one Coast Guard approved “B-1” type fire extinguisher
  • A sound-producing device such as horns, whistles, or bells is needed on board
  • A Coast Guard approved backfire flame arrestor is also needed on board
  • An anchor is needed on board just in case
  • Speed limits need to be followed
  • PWCs that are entering, leaving, or passing within 50 yards of a boating or fishing access area must be at a “no wake” speed around 5 miles per hour
  • Reckless operation is illegal. This includes: unreasonably weaving through congested vessel traffic, jumping the wake of another vessel or PWC within 100 feet of another vessel, jumping the wake of another vessel when visibility is obstructed, intentionally approaching another vessel just to swerve at the last second to avoid a collision, operating too close to another vessel, not following the “rules of the road”
  • No person can operate any PWC or other boats under the influence of drugs or alcohol or operate after consuming alcohol sufficient to cause a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher
  • If you see a law enforcement vessel that is flashing blue lights you are legally required to slow to a no-wake speed when passing within 100 feet of it
  • Regattas, tournaments and other marine exhibitions may be held on navigable waters of the State when approved by the US coast guards. If you are wanting to send in an application, it needs to be sent to the Coast Guard District Commander at least 30 days before the event
  • If towing a person or multiple people you have to have an observer other than the operator that will watch those being towed at all times OR have a rear view mirror that the operator can use to see the persons being towed through
  • The number of persons you are towing count as passengers on the PWC so make sure not to exceed the number of passengers identified by the manufacturer as the maximum safe load for the PWC or boat
  • No person can drive a PWC in a narrow channel at greater than no-wake speed within 50 feet of an anchored vessel, a dock, pier, swim float, marked swimming area, swimmers, surfers, etc.
  • You must have nighttime visual distress signals and navigation lights on your PWC

Regulation Enforcement in North Carolina

Operators of a PWC or any other boat are required to have a boater education card on board with them at all times. It the law for you to cooperate with law enforcement officers that patrol the water, so if you are asked to show them your boater education card you need to have it available for inspection.

Any person that was born on or after January 1, 1988, must get their NASBLA-approved North Carolina’s boating education card to operate any watercraft.

Young Driver Renting Rules in North Carolina

  • No one 16 years or younger can rent a PWC in North Carolina
  • A minimum of $300,000 insurance must be carried on every PWC that is rented to the public

The rules in North Carolina are more strict than most states, but anyone who is older than 16 can rent a jet ski. The insurance law is there for the protection of the watercraft itself, the passengers, and other jet skis and people on the water.

Boater Safety Certification Requirements for Young Residents of other States

You can operate a jet ski when visiting North Carolina even if you are from another state because the course you take is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). NASBLA represents the recreational boating authorities of all 50 states of the United States.

The only thing you need to do is make sure you check the laws of that State and then have your boater safety education card/certificate on board with you. When visiting other States another thing you need to do is look up where it is prohibited to operate your PWC. There are natural wildlife areas in every state that do not allow any boating whatsoever.

PWC Fines in North Carolina

If you break any rules regarding life jackets in North Carolina it is considered a class three misdemeanor and will cost you around $200.

If you do not have the correct documentation of your PWC or boat, you may be delayed and fined.

It is a misdemeanor to litter in North Carolina and the fine can be up to $1000.

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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