Frequently Asked Questions
Virginia Boating Safety Education Compliance Requirement
- Why Virginia needs this law?
- What boats are affected?
- How will the phase-in for the implementation of the requirement work?
- Does the requirement apply to all waters in Virginia?
- How do I meet the requirement?
- Are there any exemptions or exceptions to the boating safety education requirement?
- What if I rent or lease a boat?
- What are the requirements for non-residents?
- What proof do I need to show law enforcement officer if I am pulled over?
- I have already taken a NASBLA approved course, what do I need to do?
- I have lost my course completion card can I get a replacement cards?
- Is there a minimum age to complete a boating safety education class?
- What is the penalty if I do not comply with this law?
- How will this law make boating safer?
- I recently purchased a boat and my new registration has TOC stamped on my certificate of number. What does this mean?
I have heard that the 2007 Session of the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that will require Virginia boaters to take a boating course. Why does Virginia need this law?
Virginia now has over 250,000 registered motorboats (including about 30,000 personal watercraft), and hopefully boating will continue to grow as a safe and enjoyable recreational leisure-time activity. Boating safety knowledge, gained through the successful completion of a boating course, provides the recreational boater with an excellent tool to help manage the risk involved in boating. Like most things in life, it is not a completely risk-free activity - in the past 5 years Virginia has recorded over 700 recreational boating accidents that resulted in nearly 100 fatalities. With boaters having more safety knowledge, a decrease should be expected in boating accidents, injuries, deaths, and property damage and there should also be less conflict on Virginia's increasingly congested waterways.
What boats are affected by this new law?
Motorboats with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater (including boats documented by the U. S. Coast Guard) and also personal watercraft (i.e. jet ski). Sailboats do not have to meet the requirement unless the sailboat has a motor that is 10 hp or greater (whether or not the engine is running). A canoe does not have to meet the requirement, nor does a kayak, rowboat, or other manually propelled boat.
I've heard something about a "phased-in" approach for the implementation of this requirement. What does that mean?
It means that the requirement is phased-in according to age category and it also means that the requirement is phased-in according to whether the type of boat being operated is a motorboat or a personal watercraft (PWC). For example, the first phase-in is for PWC operators 20 years of age and younger and they will have to meet the requirement by July 1, 2009. Next is PWC operators 35 years of age or younger by July 1, 2010.
The remainder of the implementation schedule is:
- PWC operators 50 years of age or younger and motorboat operators 20 years of age or younger by July 1, 2011
- All personal watercraft operators, regardless of age, and motorboat operators 30 years of age or younger by July 1, 2012
- Motorboat operators 40 years of age or younger by July 1, 2013
- Motorboat operators 45 years of age or younger by July 1, 2014
- Motorboat operators 50 years of age or younger by July 1, 2015
- All motorboat operators, regardless of age, by July 1, 2016
Does the requirement for boating safety education apply to all waters in Virginia?
It applies to public waters of the Commonwealth. This includes the river systems (both fresh and tidal water), the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay, waters up to 3 miles off the Virginia coast, the Virginia portion of any lakes shared with an adjoining state, and most of the lakes wholly located in Virginia. It should be noted, however, that there are some lakes in Virginia that are not public (Lake Caroline and Lake Monticello for example immediately come to mind) and the requirement would not apply on those lakes. Boaters should check with private lake authorities to determine if there are requirements for the particular private lake. The law also does not apply to private lakes and ponds on personal property.
How do I go about meeting the requirement for boating safety education?
There's a couple of different ways to do this. The first is to complete and pass a boating safety course approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and accepted by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. A course that is NASBLA approved will have course content that meets the National Boating Education Standards; a classroom-based course that is NASBLA approved will require 6-8 hours of time. Courses that are accepted by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have signed a cooperative agreement with the agency to provide course material in a manner specified by the Boating Safety Education regulation. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries course called Boat Virginia (currently offered at no cost) is NASBLA approved and accepted by VDGIF, as are classroom courses offered by the U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the U. S. Power Squadrons. Also available are internet-based courses that are NASBLA approved and accepted by VDGIF. You should check the Boat Education section for information about classroom and approved distance learning options.
For the experienced and knowledgeable boater, a proctored equivalency exam will be available in the summer of 2009. This exam will test the knowledge of information included in the curriculum of an approved course without the benefit of having taken a full course of instruction. Equivalency exam is often referred to as a "challenge" exam since you are actually challenging the need to take a full course through the assumption that you already possess the experience and knowledge to be a safer boater. It is important to note that an equivalency exam tends to be more extensive than the test that is provided at the end of a NASBLA approved classroom course.
Once you have met the requirement, you may choose to purchase an optional Lifetime Virginia Boating Safety Education Card. This card is available for a $10.00 charge and will provide you with a durable, hard plastic, credit card style wallet card. Click here for more information.
Does the law provide for any exemptions or exceptions to the boating safety education requirement?
Yes, but only a few.
- boaters in possession of a valid license to operate a vessel issued to maritime personnel by the U. S. Coast Guard or a marine certificate issued by the Canadian government are already covered. The law also allows for:
- a 90 day temporary operator's certificate for the owner(s) of a newly acquired boat. This nonrenewable temporary operator's certificate would be issued along with the certificate of number (boat registration) and gives the owner(s) of a newly acquired boat 90 days within which to successfully complete a boater safety education course, or successfully complete the equivalency exam
- operation with a rental or lease agreement from a motorboat rental or leasing business and completion of a dockside safety checklist
- operation under onboard direct supervision of a person who already meets the education requirement (so you can teach your kids or other family members/friends how to more safely operate a boat)
- operation by non-residents operating a boat registered in another state if they meet the applicable boating safety education requirements of their state of residency
- operation by registered commercial fishermen or a person under their direct supervision while operating the commercial fisherman's boat
- operation by law enforcement officers while they are engaged in the performance of their official duties
- operation of the motorboat due to the illness or physical impairment of the initial operator and is returning the boat to shore in order to provide assistance or care for the operator
- Provides documentation that he is serving or has qualified as a surface warfare officer or enlisted surface warfare specialist in the United States Navy.
So if I rent or lease a boat, I'm exempt from the boating safety education requirement?
No - you must participate in the training program offered by the boat or jetski rental business. They will provide you with the documentation you need to comply with Virginia's education requirement.
I think you've covered it already, but what's the requirement for non-residents of Virginia?
If you are operating a boat registered in Virginia, you must comply with Virginia's boating safety education requirement. If you are operating a boat registered in another state, but temporarily using the waters of Virginia for a period of 90 days or less, you must meet the applicable boating safety education requirements of your state.
Once I'm in one of the age categories where I have to meet this requirement and I am checked by a law enforcement officer for compliance, what do I have to show to the officer to demonstrate that I've complied with the law?
Unless you fall into one of the exemption/exception provisions and be able to verify that you should be included in the exemption, you must be able to present to the officer a card or certificate that indicates that you have completed and passed a NASBLA approved boating course, or that you have passed the equivalency exam. The Department is currently developing an optional Virginia boater education card that will be available to those boaters who comply with the boating safety requirement and who want something more durable and long-lasting than their course completion cards or other compliance documents. There will be a $10.00 fee associated with the optional cards. Check back in early summer 2009 for availability of this card.
Please note, once you complete a course, you do not have to "register" with the agency. Just remember to keep your course completion paperwork onboard with you. The Department has an optional Lifetime Virginia Boating Safety Education card that will be available to those boaters who comply with the boating safety requirement and who want something more durable and long-lasting than their course completion cards or other compliance documents. There will be a $10.00 fee associated with this card. Click here for more information.
If I have already taken and passed a NASBLA approved course, do I have to do that again?
Not as long as you can provide your course completion card or certificate. If you cannot find your course completion card, the Department may have a record of your course completion (see Question 11 below). But if there is not a record of your class completion and you cannot find your card or certificate, then you will have to take a course or you could try your hand at passing the challenge exam. Also important to note is that once you have met the requirement, it does not have to be renewed - it's good for your boating lifetime. And it's also ok to take a course ahead of the implementation schedule covered in question 5 - just remember not to misplace your course completion certificate/card.
Please note, once you complete a course, you do not have to "register" with the agency. Just remember to keep your course completion paperwork onboard with you. Once you have met the requirement, you may choose to purchase an optional Lifetime Virginia Boating Safety Education Card. This card is available for a $10.00 charge and will provide you with a durable, hard plastic, credit card style wallet card. Click here for more information.
If I've lost my course completion certificate/card, how do I get a replacement?
If the course was a classroom course provided by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, your name should be in the Department's student database and we can replace the card. The request for a duplicate card must be in writing to include your full name, address at the time of course completion, birth date, telephone and e-mail (in case we need to contact your regarding your request), and current mailing address. Please fax request to 804-367-0262, mail to Boating Safety Education, Replacement Card, P.O. Box 11104, Richmond, VA 23230. If the course was provided by the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the U.S. Power Squadrons, contact them to see if their records will allow the issuance of a replacement document. As previously noted, the Department's student database includes many students from Auxiliary and Power Squadrons courses, so you may also check with the Department about a replacement card for these courses as well. Internet course students should check with your original course provider, at this time, DGIF cannot issue replacement cards for these courses.
Is there a minimum age involved in completing and passing a boating safety education course and, by doing so, being able to operate a motorboat or personal watercraft?
For a personal watercraft, the minimum operator age continues to be age 16, except those 14 or 15 year olds who have completed and passed a course can operate. This has been the law since 1999 and has not changed. For a motorboat, there continues to be no minimum operator age and there is no minimum age requirement to attend a NASBLA approved boating safety course. However, it is fairly difficult for youngsters under the age of about 12 to complete and pass a course. Remember though that youngsters can operate a boat under onboard direct supervision of a person who meets the boating safety education requirement.
What's the penalty if I do not comply with this law?
Any person who violates any provision of this law or any regulation promulgated hereunder shall be subject to a civil penalty of $100 that will be deposited in the Motorboat and Water Safety Fund of the Game Protection Fund. These dollars are used by the Department for boating safety work such as boating education and boating law enforcement.
How will this law make boating safer in Virginia?
In 2006, Virginia had 23 fatalities from recreational boating accidents, the most in the last 10 years. With this requirement, those of us involved in the boating safety area within the Department hope to see the number of accidents and the number of fatalities decline. The Department's long-standing message for boating has been Be Responsible, Be Safe...Have Fun! That's what boating is supposed to be about - safe and enjoyable.
I recently purchased a boat and my new registration has TOC stamped on my certificate of number. What does this mean?
The TOC or Temporary Operators Certificate allows the registered owner to operate their new boat for 90 days to allow time for the registered owner to take a boating safety education course. If you are not yet required to take a boating safety course, the expiration of the TOC does not apply to you; refer to the phase-in schedule of the boating safety course.