Do You Need a Sailing License for A Sailboat? (Qualifications & Certifications)
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Do You Need a Sailing License for A Sailboat? (Qualifications & Certifications)

Given just how big even a small pleasure craft can be and how dangerous it can be to sail anywhere, one would expect that there must be some kind of boater education card or at least a mandatory safety course as minimum requirements for sailing.

However, is there a need for a sailing license for a sailboat – or can you just take to the waves?

Legally, no, you do not need a sailing license to use a sailboat for recreational purposes in most countries. However, getting qualified might still be worth your while.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the sailing qualifications you should consider, and why you might need them. 

What Sailing Qualifications Do You Need? 

From a quick Google search, you will be able to deduce that nowhere does it say that you absolutely have to have a boating licence of any kind in order to sail a boat. Great news!

That being said, that does not mean that you should not get a license at all – as it can be beneficial for you for multiple reasons. 

First of all, of course, it is a great way to learn basic sailing techniques which will help you to sail easier, and much safer. That goes for not only you but also everyone on your boat and those around you.

As simple as sailing may look to some of us, it can be hazardous – even smaller sailing boats can quickly get into turmoil if they are mishandled.

Therefore, for your own safety and that of others, it is definitely best to have at least a few sailing lessons, even just from your local sailing club, to help you to understand the basics of control.

If that leads to a qualification, that can at least show you know what you’re doing!

However, having a sailing education will not only help to ensure your safety, it can also help to save you money.

Whether you have local competence certificates or an actual license, any proof that you have experience and an education in sailing a boat will help to lower your insurance rates.

As you can imagine, most insurance companies are not keen on covering boats that inexperienced people are sailing. These users are far more likely to get into accidents, get injured, or injure others.

Therefore, they are considered high risk, and some insurance carriers may not cover at all.

However, by being able to prove that you actually can control your boat, you are far more likely to get your sail boat insurance approved – and pay less, too.

Ever wondered if you need a boat survey to get insurance? Or what kind of boat insurance do you need? < Find out in our guides here.

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Do You Need a License to Sail Around the World? 

Generally speaking, no, you do not need a license to sail around the world. While there is no doubt that there are some countries in which boating licenses are a legal requirement, it’s not a given.

Even on sailing boats, these rules generally only apply to those living in that country, and not to those visiting. 

That being said, many charter companies require proof of a boating license before you can actually take helm of the boat.

Understandably, this ensures that the boats they loan out are in relatively good hands and, therefore, less likely to run into trouble.

So, if you plan on travelling around the world and renting boats in different areas, then chances are that you will need appropriate licences for each territory.

However, there are some countries in which the necessity for a boating license is a bit unclear.

While you may not be asked for one, it is best to check with the country and even the specific state or region that you plan on visiting in order to better prepare for your journey. 

When it comes to the legal definition of international waters, you have no need for a boat license.

However, again, taking at least a boat safety course is a good idea, especially if you plan on taking your boat around the world.

The Different Sailing Certifications and Licenses

Just because there are no sailing qualifications required to sail your own personal watercraft, having basic knowledge will be extremely beneficial for you.

For that, you could stick to entry-level lessons or learn more about maritime rules, first aid, and professional level sailing. 

Thankfully, there are a few different courses available, depending on what kind of level of recreational sailing you want to learn. If you’re in the UK, it’s worth getting in touch with the RYA, or Royal Yachting Association.

The RYA offers multiple tiers for budding sailors – even for those getting into commercial sailing, too.

First of all, there is RYA’s Tier One, beginner level sailing course.

During this course, you will learn how the boat moves, your basic navigation techniques, boating safety, and of course, some basic sailing lessons.

This kind of course should only take a few hours in one sitting, or can be spread across a few days. You will be with your instructor the entire time, and some will even come to teach you on your own boat if you have one

It’s also worth considering a certificate of competence from the RYA, or the American Sailing Association (in the US).

During the course in the UK, you will learn advanced navigation, safety procedures, night cruising techniques, maintenance, repairs, how to work the deck, emergency procedures and more.

This course can take up to five days to complete – however, it is not for everyone.

In the UK, you have to be at least sixteen years old, have basic knowledge about sailing, and have spent at least five days and four-nights on a sailboat. If you can prove all of this – go right ahead!

Finally, consider an international certificate of competence, too – if you plan on renting a boat or even sailing around the world on your own.

As the name suggests, it is recognised internationally, so you will not have to worry about potentially needing to provide a license when you port somewhere.

You will have to go through both a practical assessment and an ICC theory assessment (if applicable). During the practical assessment, you will go through engine checks, mooring, fires, first aid, confined handling, and man overboard procedures.

Then, during the theoretical assessment, you will work on buoyage, sound signals, international boating regulations, VHF radio and more. It can take between three to four weeks to complete the course and the ICC exam. 


If you are interested in using your sailboat for recreational use, then whether you plan on charting foreign waters or enjoying local boating, it is best to go through at least some sail training.

Ideally, it is best to work your way through all of the suggested courses above – including the internationally recognised ICC course – to gain the best sailing experience, ensuring that you are equipped for whatever you may come across. This should especially be the case if you are carrying passengers!

It is important to note that exam fees will vary depending on the country in which you are taking the course. ASA courses can even vary slightly depending on the state, too.

In any case – regardless of legal requirements, a boating safety course might be just the ticket to get you out into the wide blue yonder. Happy sailing!


RYA Training (UK)

ASA Training (US)

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