Do You Need A License To Operate An Excavator?

As the construction industry continues to be on the increase, heavy equipment operators are in high demand. There is a need for clearing ground or digging down to lay foundations, and an excavator is essential to this process. You might also be considering renting an excavator for some home excavations. 

With their various attachments and durability, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a piece of heavy-duty machinery as effective as an excavator.

In this article, we’ll be discussing whether you require a license to operate an excavator or not, what an excavator is, what the seven types of excavator are, and the types of licenses you may need to operate one. 

What Is An Excavator?

An excavator is a heavy piece of equipment used to dig holes in earth, sand, and rock. They are also used to load materials into trucks or onto conveyors for removal.

Excavators tend to be made the same, with a boom dipper, a bucket attached to the dipper, and a cab. The cab sits on a rotating platform or “house” which usually sits on either tracks or wheels. 

In brief, excavators are large mechanical shovels that can be used for the following tasks: 

  • Demolition 
  • Dredging a river
  • Clearing snow 
  • Digging trenches/holes
  • Transporting materials 
  • Landscaping 
  • Underground and surface mining
  • Grading

As mentioned above, an excavator is an essential part of any construction crew. But what about if you intend on using an excavator for non-commercial purposes on private land? 

Do You Need A License to Operate An Excavator In A Commercial Setting? 

There is now no longer a need for you to possess an excavator license for work on typical excavation jobs. There are some serious exceptions to this, along with it not being as easy as you might think. For example, there are 29 classifications of high risk excavator work that still requires a special license.

By law, you will be required to hold a driver’s license in order to operate an excavator. In certain excavator job roles, your employer may also require you to hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) as well. This requirement can vary between states and by job. 

An employer may state that an employee operating an excavator should hold industry certifications relating to the equipment they operate. 

Whilst you may not be required to have certification to operate an excavator in most instances, there are some other key requirements which must be met: 

  • Be over 18 years of age
  • Be in good physical health
  • Have a high school diploma/GED
  • Have good vision
  • Possess a mechanical aptitude

What Is A CDL?

The abbreviation CDL stands for Commercial Driver’s License. As mentioned above, some employers prefer their excavator operatives to hold a CDL alongside industry certifications. By law, a CDL is required for the operation of large, heavy or marked hazardous material vehicles in commerce. 

There are three CDL License classifications from A to C. Most employers who are seeking an excavator operator would need the potential employee to hold at least a Class B CDL. 

Best Route To Becoming An Excavator 

If you’re considering a career in construction or excavation, you might be wondering where to start this process. The best way to become an excavator operator is to attend a heavy equipment operator school, such as the HEC (Heavy Equipment Colleges of America). 

The Level I Certificate of Heavy Equipment Operations is an extensive course aimed at giving you a foundational understanding of heavy equipment operation. The course usually lasts for three weeks. 

Do You Need A License to Operate An Excavator In A Noncommercial Setting? 

Whilst some red tape has been removed for commercial settings, what about if you intend on using an excavator on private property? 

In short, you’re in luck, you do not need certification or a license to operate an excavator on private property. 

If you’re intending on hiring a mini excavator, dingo, or full-sized excavator for use on a project or job on your property, the machine supplier will most likely give you a brief overview of the machine. 

The 7 Types of Excavator

The Crawler 

Also referred to as the standard excavator, a crawler excavator runs on two rotating tracks instead of wheels. They typically use hydraulic power. Despite being slower than a wheeled excavator, the tracked chassis makes it more stable.

Wheeled Excavator

A wheeled excavator is similar to the crawler, but has wheels instead of tracks. As the wheeled excavator has less traction than its crawler counterparts, it’s best when used on concrete or asphalt. 

Suction Excavator 

Also known as the vacuum excavator, suction excavators are used to “hoover” up soil and debris at speeds of 200mph. The suction piping acts like a high pressure vacuum and works in tandem with a built-in water-jet. 

Long Reach Excavator 

As you might have guessed, a long reach excavator has a large arm and boom. These arms are extendable up to 100 feet. This excavator works best in jobs where the construction site or terrain prevents the driver and machine from getting too close, like demolition projects. 

Hydraulic Shovel

These types of excavators are the most powerful available. They’re also known as the power shovel and are designed to move heavy objects, materials, or hauling large rocks/minerals. 

Drag Line Excavator

The drag line excavator operates differently to the other excavators mentioned above. It uses a hoist rope system and a drag line to raise and lower the bucket. It’s ideal for use in excavating underwater. 

Skid Steers

A Skid Steer is ideal for residential projects on the smaller side owing to the overall size of a skid steer. The main difference is that, unlike the excavators above, the bucket and boom are facing away from the driver. 

In Conclusion

As mentioned above, you no longer require a specialized excavator license to operate an excavator. You do need a driver’s license at minimum for all excavator jobs, with most employers requiring certification. 

If you’re hiring an excavator for use on private land, you do not need a driver’s license or any official certification. 

Ryan Genkin
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