Do You Have to Have a License to Operate a Boat in Alabama?

The great state of Alabama is famous for a lot of things. You cannot speak of the state without giving a proud description of its Southern hospitality, award-winning scrumptious food, and the rich histories of space travel, literature, and music.

Of all the things it is famous for, the best would arguably be its beautiful gulf coast beaches. The white sand and turquoise waters are an inviting sight to locals and tourists alike, especially avid boaters. Whether you are a boating beginner or expert, to experience it in Alabama is to experience a slice of paradise.

This leads to the question, “Do you have to have a license to operate a boat in Alabama?”

You do need a license to operate a boat in Alabama. Most states require mandatory boating education certifications, while in Alabama, you get the certification and the license. The education certification and license do not expire and do not need to be renewed.

Read on to know more about the process and requirements for acquiring a boating license in Alabama.

Do You Have to Have a License to Operate a Boat in Alabama?

Anyone interested in operating a boat on Alabama’s waterways must have a boating certification or license. It is important to note that this boating operator certification or license must always be in the owner’s possession each time a boat will be operated.

Age Requirement

A person must be at least 12 years old to be eligible for an Alabama boat operator license. Surprisingly young, yes, but they can only operate a water vehicle unsupervised once they reach the age of 14.

The 12 or 13-year-old licensed boat operator can only wander around Alabama’s waters if there is a person 21 years of age or older on board and who also has a vessel operator’s license. This adult must be able to look after the young boat operator in a position near enough to take full control of the boat if deemed necessary.

Are Non-residents Welcome?

Fortunately, Alabama’s beautiful waterways are also open for non-resident boaters to enjoy. Non-residents 12 years and older may operate water vehicles for 45 calendar days per year without having to obtain their own vessel operator’s license from the state of Alabama. Non-resident boaters may use their certification or license acquired in another state in lieu of Alabama’s boating license within the 45 calendar days.

But should a non-resident wish to operate a boat or any water vessel in Alabama for more than the allowable 45 calendar days, then they must obtain their own license called the Alabama Non-Resident Vessel Operator’s License.

Successfully Completed Boater Education Certification

This examination is available online at state-approved course sites or in any Alabama county Department of Public Safety Driver’s License Examining Office. This test is to prove if you are aware of and can handle the associated risks of operating a boat or any motorized vessel.

This boater education exam will teach important lessons, such as boating safety guidelines that are useful within the state of Alabama and anywhere you may want to operate your boat.

The below video is a bit older, but the rules still apply and will give some more insight into Alabama’s boating laws:

Steps to Take to Acquire the Alabama Boating Operator Certification / License

According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, here are the steps you need to take if you wish to get the Alabama boating license.

  1. You must go to the Department of Public Safety Driver’s License Examining Office in your county of residence.
  2. Submit the application form and pay the appropriate fee of $5.
  3. Answer truthfully the medical questionnaire.
  4. Successfully complete the written or oral boater education examination, with a passing rate of at least 80%.
  5. Take the properly completed form to an ALEA driver license exam office to have the “V” class placed on the driver’s license.

If you have taken the boater certification from any of the state-approved online boating course sites, you may just present your certification to the Department of Public Safety Driver’s License Examining Officer and not take step 4 of the instructions above.

Exempt People from Taking the Boating Operator Certification / Licensing Exam

There are a number of exempt people from taking the boating educational examination:

1. United States Coast Guard Motorboat Operator’s License holders

2. People with valid certificate of completion for the following:

  • United States Power Squadron Boating Course
  • United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Boating Course
  • Any State of Alabama Marine Patrol Division approved boating course including the Boat Alabama classroom course or State-approved online boating course: and

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

See the below video on how to take an online course:

Alabama also values reciprocity when it comes to accepting certifications acquired out of state, especially for non-residents, as long as the certification course meets the education standards of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA).

Successfully completing your boating safety courses will not only help you get the Alabama boating license but also provide you the necessary water safety skills. And it gives you a discount on boat insurance, so it really is a worthwhile investment of your time and money, whichever state you are in.

But it is important to remember that each state has a unique set of boating education requirements as well as a set of rules and regulations. You must be able to review the full list of laws in a particular state if you wish to visit or stay in the state for boating.

Now that you have learned what it takes to acquire a boating license in Alabama, why not explore the best boating sites the state has to offer?

Some of the Best Boating Areas in Alabama

According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, there are about 256,000 registered boat owners in the state of Alabama alone. One of the state’s best features is its strategic location, which is perfect for hot and humid summers. It provides a great opportunity to go boating from one of the many public ramps across the state.

Another great thing about Alabama is the fact that over three 3% of the state is made up of water. The Yellowhammer state is also home to one of the longest navigational waterways in the whole country.

Here are some of the best Alabama sites for boating:

1. Guntersville Lake – Jackson and Marshall Counties

This is the largest lake in the northern part of the state and is situated between Guntersville and Bridgeport cities. It has a 121-kilometer shoreline stretch, which is also home to a lot of parks and accommodations, offering a variety of recreational activities. There is a boat dock available in the area, so boaters and tourists can enjoy the lake as much as possible.

2. Lewis Smith Lake – Cullman, Walker, and Winston Counties

Lewis Smith Lake is one of Alabama’s clearest lakes. It has a shoreline of over 800 kilometers across three sections, which is a perfect place for boating, fishing bass, swimming, and other water sports.

3. Lake Martin – Tallapoosa, Elmore, and Coosa Counties

Lake Martin is a 17,800-hectare lake, which boasts over 1,200 kilometers of wooded shoreline. The sheer size of this man-made body of water makes it a desirable spot for boating, fishing, and water skiing.

4. Wheeler Lake – Madison County

This 96.5-kilometer lake is situated along the Tennessee River and is the second largest lake in the state. Wheeler Lake is one of the best tourist destinations in the area, drawing around four million visitors annually. The best activities here are boating, fishing, and camping.

5. Neely Henry Lake – Calhoun, Etowah, and St. Clair Counties

The Neely Henry Lake is a 4,500-hectare lake formed by a dam of the same name. It has a shoreline of over 540 kilometers, offering places for swimming, bird watching, and picnicking. Fishing and boating activities are also popular in the area, especially for largemouth and spotted bass species.

Conclusion – Do You Have to Have a License to Operate a Boat in Alabama?

So, do you have to have a license to operate a boat in Alabama?

It is important to know that Alabama is the only one that requires an actual license to operate a boat or other motorized vessels out of all the states. Their regulations might be more stringent, but it just means they are serious about the safety of the boaters using their beautiful and vast waterways. After all, Alabama is home to over 300 public ramps and about 132,000 miles of river and stream channels.

Once you have acquired your Alabama boating license, be sure to check out the 23 public lakes situated around 20 counties throughout the state. It may just be one of the best experiences you can have in your lifetime.

Related reading:

What Are the Boat Requirements in Arkansas?

Registering a Boat in Alabama – Plus Alabama Boat Laws

Do You Need a License to Drive a Boat? US License Laws

How to Drive a Boat for Beginners?