Mutations in the never-in-mitosis A-related kinase, Nek8, are associated with cystic kidney disease in both humans and mice, with Nek8 being the NPHP9 gene in the human juvenile cystic kidney disease, nephronophthisis. Human Nek8/NPHP9 localizes to centrosomes and the proximal region of cilia in dividing and ciliated cells, respectively. However, the regulation of Nek8 kinase activity, as well as its role in ciliogenesis, remains to be defined. Here, by establishing Nek8 kinase assays, we first demonstrate that the localization of Nek8 to centrosomes and cilia is dependent on both kinase activity and the C-terminal non-catalytic RCC1 domain. The kinase domain alone is active, but does not localize correctly, while the RCC1 domain localizes correctly and can be phosphorylated by Nek8. We propose that centrosome recruitment is mediated by the RCC1 domain, but requires a conformational change in the full-length protein that is promoted by autophosphorylation. Interestingly, three human NPHP9-associated mutants retain full kinase activity. However, only two of these, L330F and A497P, localize correctly, suggesting that the third mutant, H425Y, disrupts a centrosome targeting sequence in the RCC1 domain. Importantly, we find that induction of ciliogenesis upon cell cycle exit is accompanied by both activation and proteasomal degradation of Nek8, and that activation is dependent upon phosphorylation within the catalytic domain. Taken together, these findings reveal important insights into the mechanisms through which Nek8 activity and localization are regulated during ciliogenesis.