Boating License Law in Wisconsin Changing?

You may have been seeing headlines about boating laws changing for teenage boat drivers. Is the boating license age in Wisconsin getting stricter? Will young boat drivers be subject to more scrutiny? While the boating laws are changing, they are not becoming stricter nor do they increase requirements for teenage boat drivers. In fact, the opposite is true. There was a flaw in the law that the new legislation remedies, putting it in line with other sections.

Current Law

Under current law, no person under the age of 10 may operate a motorboat. Anyone 10 or 11 years old can operate a motorboat when accompanied by a parent, guardian or person over 18. For 12 – 15 year olds, the same is true, though they may operate a motorboat on their own if they have completed an approved boating safety course and have the certification card. Anyone 16 and older must have successfully completed a boating safety course and have a certification card. So in Wisconsin, anyone 16 or older must have a boating safety certification card unless s/he was born before January 1, 1989.


There are a couple of loopholes in this section that have caused difficulties. A fifteen-year-old could be out in a motorboat with her parents the day before her 16th birthday and could operate the boat without having completed a boating safety course. The next day, in exactly the same circumstances, she would not legally be able to operate the boat. That’s the biggest loophole that the proposed bill would eliminate. Also, the current law doesn’t specify that the parent, guardian or adult who accompanies the 10 – 15 year old needs to have their boating safety certification card (or have been born before January 1, 1989).

Proposed Law

The proposed changes to Section 30.678 simply make it consistent within itself. So, for instance, it specifies that the accompanying adult needs to have boating safety certification or be born before January 1, 1989. Then, it includes the provision that teens over 15 can drive a motorboat if they are accompanied by their parents, guardians, or adults over 18 who have their boating safety certification or were born before January 1, 1989.

Boating Safety Certification

We don’t have boating licenses in Wisconsin; we have boating safety certification cards. These act just like licenses, and you are required to carry your certification card with you when you go out onto the water. There are a number of different ways to attend and participate in boating safety classes. There are online courses and in-person sessions; they are offered by for-profit companies and Coast Guard auxiliaries; they can cost as little as $10 per person and take as few as three hours. But they must be approved or honored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Before signing up for your course, you need to acquire a DNR Customer Number. That number is unique to you and lasts for your lifetime. If the boating safety course you are considering does not ask you to get your DNR number, it is not an approved course.

While the boating law is changing slightly, it just means that the law will correspond completely with common sense. And with so many boat safety courses around, it would be wisest for anyone over 12 to complete the course and get their safety certification card. So, there’s no need to worry, and it’s always a good idea to do a boat safety course.