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Learning boating skills online may seem like a contradiction, but many course providers now offer the chance to do just that. Most states require anyone with a powerboat or personal watercraft to complete an approved boater safety course. With a few clicks, you can enroll, pay, study, and take your exam from the comfort of home.
Other online boater safety certifications are designed for specific types of water-based fun, from offshore sailing to canoeing on your local river. Here are our top choices for the best online boater safety courses.
Best Online Boater Safety Courses of 2021
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: America’s Boating Course
Why We Chose It: America’s Boating Course stood out for us as the best overall choice because of its comprehensive nature and downloadable, full-color course manual.
Approved by NASBLA and the United States Coast Guard
Access to comprehensive downloadable manual
Assistance from United States Power Squadrons members
Not as interactive as some online courses
Only compatible with Internet Explorer
More expensive in some states than others
Approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the U.S. Coast Guard, America’s Boating Course is one of the most in-depth online options out there. It is designed for users of all types of watercraft and will teach you the skills you need to keep safe on the water. Additionally, successful completion of the course’s final exam makes you eligible for your state boating card (in states that allow online certification).
Once you enroll, you will be given access to a downloadable manual by the United States Power Squadrons, a nonprofit dedicated to maritime safety. Content covered includes local laws and regulations, navigation rules, water sports safety, and boat maintenance. Use the review questions after each section to help you retain the information. After completing the final exam, all course materials will remain available including a series of useful printable forms (e.g. checklists and accident reports). The course costs $34.95 in most states.
Best Runner-Up: Boat Ed
Why We Chose It: We chose Boat Ed as our runner-up because of its well-designed and intuitive website and the multimedia nature of its online course.
Course material includes live-action videos
Fully mobile-friendly design
Can save progress and complete course at your own pace
Cost differs from state to state
Some states require further steps before certification
Customer service team is not available 24 hours a day
Boat Ed is recognized by the Coast Guard and approved by NASBLA and your local state boating license agency. On the company’s homepage, you will be able to select your state and see the course cost and requirements at a single glance. In most states, the course costs $34.95. It is a particularly good choice for visual learners since it includes live-action, high-definition videos that bring potential boating scenarios to life.
You’ll also have access to a full course manual, which you can read on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. The course can be completed in just a few hours, but you also have the freedom to save your progress and log in and out whenever you like. You have unlimited attempts at the final exam, and in most states all you need to do upon passing it is print your online course completion certificate.
Best for Visual Learners: BOATERexam.com
Why We Chose It: We chose BOATERexam.com as the best option for visual learners because of its beautifully illustrated learning materials and exam questions.
Cheaper than the previous entries on this list
Over 2 million boaters successfully certified
Also available for Canadian boaters
Not available in every state
Card takes three to five weeks to arrive
Customer service team not always available
NASBLA- and Coast Guard-recognized BOATERexam.com offers boater safety courses in 45 states and Canada. Each course is tailored to meet the specific requirements of each state, and every exam is approved by the relevant state agency. You can study on any device, from your smartphone to your desktop computer, using materials that have been designed especially for visual learners. You'll also benefit from videos, animations, and full-color illustrations.
Best of all, every question on the final exam is also illustrated to help you get the best possible results. Once you pass the test, you can print a certificate of completion and go boating right away (depending on state laws) while you wait for your official boater education card to arrive in the mail. Live customer support is available every day from 9 a.m. to midnight EST. The course costs $29.95 and exam retakes are always free.
Best Interactive Course: Ilearntoboat
Why We Chose It: Ilearntoboat is the stand-out choice for those wanting an even more interactive experience, due to its game-style format complete with an avatar and role-playing simulations.
Brand new approach to online learning
Can be completed on your smartphone
Approved by NASBLA and the Coast Guard
Not yet available in every state
Game-style format may not suit every user
Must complete course within 90 days of registration
Those with a passion for video games will love ilearntoboat’s clever new way of getting your boater education certificate. Approved by NASBLA, the Coast Guard, and your state agency, the website offers courses in 15 states as of February 2021—and more are being added all the time. It is especially valuable for interactive learners, giving you the opportunity to build an avatar and tackle challenges based on real-life scenarios.
You will need to complete all levels and pass a final exam to receive your temporary boater education certificate. If you choose to do the course in a single sitting, it should take around three hours. However, you have 90 days from the time of registration to complete it if you want to do so at your own pace. The course is accessible on all Apple and Android phones as well as your computer, and costs around $50.
Best Free: BoatUS Foundation
Why We Chose It: BoatUS Foundation was the obvious winner for this category since it is the only free online boater safety course sanctioned by the majority of state authorities.
Offered free of charge
Can be completed at your own pace
Accessible from any device with an internet connection
Not NASBLA-approved in every state
Participants receive a certificate, not a card
More time consuming than most other courses
BoatUS Foundation is a national nonprofit funded by grants and donations, and as such, it is able to offer online boater safety courses free of charge. In 35 states, these courses are approved by the relevant state agency and NASBLA and recognized by the Coast Guard. In the rest of the states, the course is not NASBLA-approved, but it can be used as a valuable refresher or to get a discount on your BoatUS insurance policy.
Simply enroll, study, and take the exam online. There are six lessons, each with a 10-question quiz. The final exam is comprised of 60 questions chosen at random. Once you pass it, you will be able to print out your own certificate of completion for free. BoatUS estimates that the course takes between four and eight hours to complete, with the ability to start and stop at will. Your progress will save automatically when you close your browser.
Best for Sailors: NauticEd Safety at Sea Clinic
Why We Chose It: We chose NauticEd’s Safety at Sea Clinic because of its in-depth coverage of topics that could make all the difference in life-or-death situations for offshore sailors.
Five out of five rating from past customers
Can be completed at your own pace
Test can be taken as many times as needed
Not suitable for inshore or beginner sailors
More expensive than other online courses
Takes 14 hours on average to complete
NauticEd’s popular Safety at Sea Clinic is designed especially for offshore sailors, to prepare them for emergency situations that may arise during their bluewater adventures. Your online studying will cover a diverse array of topics, from sail repair and rigging failures to engine issues, man overboard and abandon ship procedures, safety gear, and helicopter evacuation. In total, the course takes approximately 14 hours to complete, although you can spread out your sessions to suit your schedule.
The course is very flexible, and the format allows you to return to earlier material whenever you like and to take the test as many times as you need to. Even after completion, you are guaranteed lifetime access to the course materials. When you pass the test, you will be able to add the Safety at Sea endorsement to your sailing certificate. The course costs $45, with discounts available for those purchasing NauticEd’s Captain Rank bundle.
Best for Paddlers: Boat Ed Paddlesports Safety Course
Why We Chose It: We chose Boat Ed’s Paddlesports Safety Course because it is NASBLA-approved and designed in partnership with the American Canoe Association (ACA).
Endorsed by NASBLA and the ACA
Can be completed on any device with internet
Unlimited exam attempts
Expensive for a course that isn’t legally required
Not particularly interactive
Customer service availability is based on EST
Paddlesports education may not be a legal requirement, but people who plan on exploring their local waterway with a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard need to be familiar with state laws and regulations and should understand how to stay safe on the water. Boat Ed offers an easy way to achieve this with its paddlesports safety course, developed in conjunction with the American Canoe Association.
The course content is accessible from any device and can be completed in a single sitting in just a few hours, or broken up into smaller sessions to suit you. If you close your browser in the middle of the course, it will automatically save your progress. Unlimited exam attempts ensure that you get the result you want, after which you can print your online course completion document and head straight onto the water. There is no minimum age requirement or residential requirement to take this course. The cost is $29.50.
If you’re looking for a traditional, comprehensive online boater safety course, our top picks are those offered by America’s Boating Course and Boat Ed. Visual learners are likely to benefit from BOATERexam’s format, which includes fully illustrated exam questions, or the interactive, gamer-style concept of the ilearntoboat course. BoatUS Foundation is the only organization to offer the course for free (although it is not officially recognized in some states) while NauticEd and Boat Ed are our go-to choices for sailing and paddle sports courses, respectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should Take an Online Boater Safety Course?
Residents of most states are legally required to take a boater safety course before operating a powerboat or personal watercraft on public waterways. Doing yours online means being able to study at your own pace and take the exam from the comfort of home.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Boater Safety Course?
The length of an online boater safety course depends on the course and how you choose to do it. The ones mentioned in this article take a total of between three and 14 hours to complete, which you can do in a single sitting or over the course of several days.
How Much Does an Online Boater Safety Course Cost?
Online boater safety courses vary in cost. However, the average cost of getting your state agency and NASBLA-approved boater education card is around $35. It is possible to get it for free through the BoatUS Foundation if you live in a state where this certification is officially recognized.
Are There Online Boater Safety Courses for Sailors?
Our favorite course for sailors is NauticEd’s Safety at Sea Clinic, which offers a comprehensive, 14-hour overview of all the safety procedures and emergency responses that might be required by a bluewater sailor.
How We Chose the Best Online Boater Safety Courses
Extensive online research revealed that although there are many websites offering online boater safety courses, many (like Safe Boating America) redirect to one of the providers listed in this article. Therefore, we decided to focus on companies that offer courses themselves rather than outsourcing them. We also prioritized those that are approved by NASBLA and recognized by the Coast Guard, and that operate in as many states as possible. We found that some providers, like BoatTests101, appear to offer courses in every state but in reality have yet to launch in most areas.