Boating education requirements are being phased into almost all the US states. Often they are based on a "born after" date or age, so they especially apply to young adults and teens, but will include more people as time goes on; Virginia will catch almost everyone in its requirements in a few years. The requirements are pretty basic and can often be done as a free classroom course (1 day) or as a not-very-expensive on-line class.
Generally, a person who is old enough to be exempt from the class is allowed to directly supervise operation of a boat by someone who would otherwise be required to take the class. And again generally, people who are young enough to be in the group that need the class must have passed the class and have their course card in order to operate a boat (powerboat or sailboat) without direct supervision. States will honor each other's course cards, so you only need to pass a class once in one state and will be good in other states.
In Virginia, the Dept. of Game
administers the requirements. VA has a fairly aggressive phase-in schedule that will require anyone to meet the requirement within a few years. Note that sailboats are generally considered to be "motorboats" for the purposes of this and similar laws.
From Virginia's DG&F site:
(Boating Safety and Education - Frequently Asked Questions
It means that the requirement is phased-in according to age category and it also means that the requirement is phased-in according to whether the type of boat being operated is a motorboat or a personal watercraft (PWC). For example, the first phase-in is for PWC
operators 20 years of age and younger and they will have to meet the requirement by July 1, 2009. Next is PWC
operators 35 years of age or younger by July 1, 2010.
The remainder of the implementation schedule is:
PWC operators 50 years of age or younger and motorboat operators 20 years of age or younger by July 1, 2011
All personal watercraft operators, regardless of age, and motorboat operators 30 years of age or younger by July 1, 2012
Motorboat operators 40 years of age or younger by July 1, 2013
Motorboat operators 45 years of age or younger by July 1, 2014
Motorboat operators 50 years of age or younger by July 1, 2015
All motorboat operators, regardless of age, by July 1, 2016>>
represent a basic minimum knowledge of safety, safety operation, equipment
requirements, operation requirements, and a bit of navigation
info and emergency
response. The content tends to be focused by weight of accident
statistics, so there's much more material about jet skis and small powerboats than about sailboats, especially bigger boats.