The operation and regulation of commercial vessels in Illinois entail an extensive set of requirements and guidelines. From renting commercial vessels as bareboats with USCG certified captains to obtaining licenses for passenger and rental boats, adherence to specific procedures is essential. Additionally, compliance with safety measures, equipment standards, and marine enforcement guidelines is crucial for ensuring safe and legal operations.

Age Requirement:

  • Anyone born on or after January 1, 1998, may operate a vessel powered by a motor of more than 10 horsepower only if they have a valid Boating Safety Certificate accepted by the DNR.
  • You can sign up for the Boating Safety Course Here

Bareboat Regulations:

  • Commercial vessels offered for hire must be rented as bareboats and should include an easily accessible list of certified captains. However, the person renting the vessel has the option to choose their own captain, under the condition that this selected captain holds a valid USCG-issued license.
  • USCG captain licensing is a requirement. Any person captaining a vessel in exchange for payment must hold a valid U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner’s Credential with specific authorization for transporting passengers.
  • Having a commercial permit and meeting all essential conditions for permits and liability insurance is mandatory.
  • Boats carrying 7 or more passengers must pass a safety inspection conducted by the USCG. The boat must visibly display the U.S. Coast Guard COI.

For additional details regarding inspections for 7 or more passengers, you can contact the Marine Safety Unit at 630-986-2155

  • As a result of changes in the guidance from the US Coast Guard, Chicago Harbors will no longer grant Bareboat or 6 Passenger Permits. Current Commercial Permit holders must submit a new application for the 2024 season following the updated guidelines. More information can be found Here.

Illinois Certificate of Number (registration):

A watercraft equipped with either a motor or sail must complete the registration process. In order to secure watercraft registration, all boat owners are required to complete the Watercraft Application

The application requires a registration fee, which is significant for conserving natural resources and promoting safe water body use. Boats fall into four length-based classes, each with its own registration and title fee. Renewal is mandatory every 3 years. Once your registration has been approved, you must have your registration certificate, certificate of number, and certificate of title with you when operating your boat.

Check here for more information on How to register

Commercial Passenger Vessel license (CPV):

Vessels offered for charter with captains are required to obtain a Commercial Passenger Vessel license from the City. Payment for the CPV license must be made upon its approval.

  • Annual Fee:
    • $75 for vessels carrying 19 passengers or fewer
    • $350 for vessels carrying 20 or more passengers

The CPV license is issued at the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection office Contact at 312.746.4200or for questions .

You can find more information and required documents needed Here.

Passenger & Rental Boat License:

In order to run commercial boats that carry passengers or are used for rentals, individuals are required to acquire a license from the DNR. You should display the license either at the business location or on the boat if there's only one, you will also receive a decal for every licensed boat

The licenses are to be renewed every year by March 1st and remain valid for a full year until the following March 1st.

  • Annual License Fee:
    • Renting boats for hire $30 (plus a yearly charge for each rented boat, determined by the boat's length)
    • carrying passengers for hire $50 for each boat.

For more details and to locate the Boat License Application and the Passenger Inspection Reports please refer to the DNR website . or email

Passenger Pick Up/ Drop Off:

Numerous places allow for the drop-off and pickup of rental boats, and here are a couple with specified passenger zones. Before finalizing your plans, make sure to confirm the pickup and drop-off policies with the marina or dock.

  • 31st Street Harbor Boat Ramp at 3155 S. Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
  • Jackson Park Inner Harbor at 1987 E Hayes Dr #1971, Chicago, IL 60649

Additional Resources

  • To obtain a USCG captain license you can reach out to our partner Mariners Learning System. Use the promo code GETMYBOAT10 for 10% off all products.
  • You can also use our partner Boat Charter Insurance to obtain a commercial insurance policy