Have your ever wanted to hit the open water with friends and family on a boat, then remembered that the one thing you didn’t have was an actual boat?

Certainly, not everyone has the financial means to own a boat. And for the uninitiated, renting a boat can be intimidating and lead to several questions, such as what licenses, credentials or advanced instruction do you need to rent a boat and properly use it on a lake, river or open ocean.

“It’s an easy process for the first-time renter,” says Frederick Fame, president of Techy Advisor in Atlanta, GA. “We provide an online safety course that can be taken before they arrive. We also offer it at the marina.”

“If people are ever thinking about boating, don’t be intimidated,” Buell says. “Pontoons are a great way to get people on the water. It’s a good way to see if it’s something you might enjoy. Pontoons are so easy to handle for renters who have never boated before. They can learn easily.”

Here’s a look at what a novice boater will need to know to get out on the water this spring and summer.

Jump right in

Peak season for renting a boat typically starts around Memorial Day weekend and runs through summer. Buell advises prospective boaters to make a rental reservation in advance of their plans. In the summer and on weekends, we are the busiest and may run out of boats to rent.

Boating experts also recommend that boaters prepare for the weather conditions and the fact they could be on the water for several hours.

“I would suggest bringing a layer of clothing,” says Christine Davis, vice president of Dewitt Marine in Bellaire, Michigan, who notes that the Northern Michigan weather can change in a matter of minutes. “I’d also suggest a cooler for beverages.”

ski boat

Ski boats allow people to explore the lake, as well as pull skiers and tubers. (Photo courtesy of Yamaha Watercraft Group)

Boating: Rules of the water

Each state has its own laws regarding whether boat drivers must complete a boating education class before operating a vessel. Many states require a class for younger boat drivers, while some states, such as Alaska and South Dakota, have no requirements.

Boat rental companies we spoke with say they require renters to sign a waiver acknowledging responsibility for the boat and the people on board. Renters are responsible for damage they cause to the boat and injuries suffered, but not for mechanical problems such as a blown motor.

“We do suggest the customer contact their insurance agent to discuss,” Davis says. “They may have a current policy that extends coverage to the rental boat or can purchase coverage during the rental. Dewitt Marine does not offer insurance coverage for purchase.”

Jennifer Shedd, owner of Lake Monroe Boat Rental in Bloomington, Indiana, says renters are required to be present for checkout and check-in when renting a boat and must sign a waiver for the boat before taking it on the water.

“We need a valid driver’s license from someone at least 18,” Shedd says. “That person signs responsibility. We then show them how to operate it, which is quite easy.”

We may require a deposit upon rental and can keep all or part of that deposit, if they determine the renter is negligent in damaging the boat.

Deposits range from $50 to $300 at Lake Monroe Boat Rental, depending on the boat, Shedd says. Dewitt Marine requires a $500 security deposit for all boat rentals.

“Before we send the renter out for the day, we explain the rental agreement they sign, walk through the boat with them and note any existing damage, and complete an inventory check,” Davis says.

Age requirements to rent a boat

Age requirements to rent a boat vary for various rental companies. For example, you must be 18 to rent at Lake Monroe or Westport Marina, while Geist requires you to be at least 25.Davis says a Dewitt Marine staffer will explain how to operate the boat and the “ways of the water,” as well as provide a map of the lake. Dewitt Marine is on Torch Lake, just east of Lake Michigan.“It’s similar to car rentals, except boats are a little more tricky to operate,” she says. “Boats don’t have brakes like a car and, in addition to no brakes, water current, wind, weather and other boaters all can play a significant factor in operating. We strongly suggest having an experienced boater to captain the boat.”

All hands on deck

Now, it’s finally time to get your feet wet.

If you’re interested in renting a specific type of boat, do your homework in advance to see what options area companies offer. Dewitt Marine, for example, rents out triple-tube pontoon boats that can seat 12 to 15 people. The Omnia also offers brand new boatd with water slides.

“We’ve got everything except for a houseboat and a sailboat,” Shedd says.

Any boat you rent should be equipped with safety items such as life jackets.


We can provide accessories such as skis, ski ropes and wakeboards for rent, or we allow you to bring your own.


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