A boating license is a requirement for anyone in Texas who wishes to operate a certain type of vessel and was born on or after September 1, 1993. If you were born after this date, you must obtain the correct type of license before taking control of a boat. A birthdate that falls earlier than this date, however, permits an individual to operate a boat in Texas without a boating license.

Texas Boater Licensing Requirements 

Texas state law determines whether someone needs a license to operate a boat or watercraft based on age. If an individual was born on or after September 1, 1993, he or she must obtain a boating license (technically known as a Texas Boater Education Card) before operating certain vessels. Everyone else, however, does not need a boating license to legally operate the same vessels. 

The types of vessels that require a boating license for operators born on or after September 1, 1993, in Texas are:

  • A motorized boat of 15 horsepower or more
  • A wind-powered sailboat that is 15 feet in length or more
  • Any personal watercraft (PWC)

There are exceptions to the rule, however. If an individual is operating a motorboat on private waters, is accompanied by a person who is 18 or older that is exempt from mandatory education or is a resident of another state who has passed an approved boater safety course in that state, the operator does not need a Texas boating license. An individual can also be exempt from Texas’s boating license law with the purchase of a one-time 15-day boater education deferral.

How to Get a Boating License in Texas

Before an individual can receive a boating license in Texas, he or she must be at least 13 years of age. Children who are under the age of 13 may still operate a boat, however, as long as they are supervised by an adult who is 18 or older who is present on the boat and legally allowed to take over the operation of the boat, if required.

Obtaining a boating license in Texas requires an individual to take a boater safety course that has been approved by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD). The individual must then pass an exam on the safety course materials. Someone who wishes to get a boating license can do so online, such as through BOATERexam.com. Most TPWD-approved courses take around three hours to complete.

After studying the boater education course and passing the exam (which is free to retry), the individual will receive a Boater Education Card. A temporary certificate will be sent to the individual that can be used for boating immediately, as well as a permanent card that will be available for download within 7 to 10 business days. Texas’s Boater Education Card is accepted in 40 states.

What Happens if You’re Caught Operating a Boat Without a License in Texas? 

It is a $500 fee if a boater who is legally required by Texas to have a boating license is caught operating a vessel listed above without one. Operating a vessel without the proper license in Texas could also be used as proof of negligence in a boat accident claim. Boating without a Texas Boater Education Card is evidence of a wrongful act by the operator, as well as a potential sign of incompetence and inexperience. 

Although boat insurance is not a legal requirement in Texas, purchasing insurance can help a boat owner or operator pay for the damage caused should a boat accident occur. If the operator is held liable for an accident – such as from boater inattention or recklessness – he or she may have to pay for victims’ medical bills and property repairs out of pocket without insurance. If you were injured in a boating accident involving someone who was illegally operating a boat without a license in Texas, contact a San Antonio boat accident attorney about your financial recovery options.