Maine’s first boating license law would go into effect in 2024

Most boaters under the age of 25 must complete a training and safety course to operate Maine’s lakes and rivers before January 2024, as the legislature passed legislation this year.

Maine is an outlier among the states because boat licenses are not currently required. The proposed law will require powerboat and jet ski operators to be educated on state boating laws, wildlife and environmental impacts, or risk fines and criminal charges for non-compliance.

Optional boatman training courses are already being offered online and in person. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recognizes four online courses and boaters must pass one to be certified under the proposed law. A six-hour face-to-face course is also offered in Portland.

The proposed law is set to take effect on January 1, 2024 and will apply to anyone born in 1999 or later. It faces one final legislative hurdle before going to Gov. Janet Mills for signature.

“Sometimes the best way to teach adults new things is to make sure younger people understand what we’re trying to learn,” said Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond), who sponsored the bill, which received support from Lake Associations , environmental and wildlife groups and lake property owners.

Fay spent summers at her family camp on Sebago Lake and learned to operate a boat from her father and grandfather. Over the years, she’s seen more recreational boaters come to Maine and operate unsafely – sometimes meeting loons and rocking smaller watercraft.


“For much of my adult life, it has puzzled me how people know so little about what safe boating looks like,” Fay said.

She concluded that the ways to improve safe boating comes down to knowledge and education.

Under Maine’s proposed new law, anyone born in 1999 or later must complete a boating course before operating a boat of 25 horsepower or more or operating a personal watercraft — such as a jet ski — on inland waterways. The state minimum age to operate a jet ski remains at 16.

Boaters who violate the new law would be fined between $100 and $500 per violation, and those with three or more violations in a five-year period could be charged with a Class E felony.

The under-25s are not among the boaters who suffer the most accidents or cause the most fatalities, according to national data collected by the Coast Guard.


By applying the law to children and young adults first, they can model safe boating practices for their parents, Fay said. Similar to how recycling has been taught in schools and how children’s behaviors have been mirrored at home, she said.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which enforces boating laws on the state’s inland waterways, sees the bill as an important change. The department initially wanted all state boaters, regardless of age, to complete an educational course by 2027, but agreed to the compromise reached by lawmakers to start with boaters born in 1999 and after.

Opposition from a sports group over public access to law debates and lawmakers’ concerns about requiring people decades out of high school to sit and pass an exam were factored into the decision to extend the law to younger boaters to restrict.

The law only applies to inland waterways. An advocacy group composed of recreational athletes, the marine industry and the Department of Marine Resources, which oversees Maine’s coastal waters, will also be formed under the law to make recommendations to the Legislature on potential implementation of the Tidal Waters Act.

Lawmakers intend to review the study group’s recommendations next year.


The Department of Marine Resources has declined to answer questions about the possibility of extending the law to tidal waters at this time.

“We look forward to participating in the advocacy group to ensure all issues are considered before a legal mandate for coastal boater safety training is established,” a spokesman for the department wrote in an email.

The House of Representatives voted 91 to 39 in favor of the bill on March 31 and gave final approval on April 7. Senators passed it unanimously on April 5.

Lawmakers will take one final vote to pass the bill before sending it to Mills.

This story was originally published by The Maine Monitor. The Maine Monitor is a local journalism product published by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan and nonprofit news organization.


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