California Boater Card requirements
To operate a motorboat in California, the California Division of Boating and Waterways requires that all boaters carry the California Boater Card while operating a motorboat. You will need to complete an approved boating safety course to get your California Boater Card.
The state boating law is phased in over the years, according to your age group.
- January 1, 2023: 50 years old or younger.
- January 1, 2024: 60 years old or younger.
- January 1, 2025 All persons regardless of age are required to obtain the card.
Your California Boater Card will be accepted in all states that require NASBLA-approved certification and the card is good for life.
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Complete and easy-to-read study guide.
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Boating safety course introduction
- Mandatory boater education
- Boating terminology
- Registration & Titling
- Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
- Navigation light equipment
- Other recommended equipment
Trip Planning and Preparation
- Pre-departure checklist
- Launching & Retrieving a boat from the water
- Boat preventive maintenance
Safe Boat Operation
- Operator responsibilities
- Navigation rules
- U.S. Aids to navigation system
- Docking & Undocking
- Procedures for Anchoring
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Boating accidents
- Surviving in cold water
- Rendering assistance - Accident report
Other Water Activities
- Small boats - Special dangers
- Water skiing & towed devices
- Water-Jet Propelled Watercraft (PWC)
Crystal clear. Our team works hard to develop intuitive and effective training. No endless reading, interactive learning is the key to success!
Take the final test
The boating exam consists of 60 multiple choice questions.
Open-book final test.
Free exam retries - risk free!
Print your certificate
- If not done already, go to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways website to apply for an Application ID Number.
- Fill out the info, enter your Application ID number, and check your email for your temporary card from the California DBW.
- Print it or download it and start boating now!
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A complete 3-hour course… well organized in 7 chapters
- Study at your pace
- The card is valid for life
- Exam retries are free
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We wanted to create the most interactive and user-friendly online pleasure craft training platform for you. Our goal: to provide a clear, comprehensive and fun boater safety course, so that you can get on with the theory and go boating... NOW!
FAQ - Boating in California
- What is a California Boater Card?
The California Boat Card is proof that the holder has successfully taken and passed a NASBLA/state-approved boater safety exam. Since January 1, 2018, people wishing to operate a motorized vessel on California waterways need to carry the California Boat Card. The Card will be phased in over 8 years, depending on your age. Each year since January 2018 a new age group is added to those who are required to possess a valid card. The California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) issues the card.
Do your California approved boating safety course, print your Boating Certificate and then apply to get your California approved Boater Card.
- What are the age restrictions to operate a motor boat in California?
A person under the age of 16 may not operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower unless the boat is a sailboat and does not exceed 30 feet in length - OR - the boat is a dinghy and is operated between a moored boat and shore, or to go between two moored boats. The California law does allow anyone aged 12-15 to operate motorboats of more than 15 horsepower, or sailboats over 30 feet, if they supervised by a person on board who is at least 18 years of age.
PWC Operation: A person under the age of 16 may not operate a PWC of more than 15 horsepower unless that person is between the ages of 12 and 15, and is directly supervised by a person on board who is at least 18 years of age. Anyone who allows an unsupervised person under the age of 16 to operate is guilty of an offense.
- Is this course approved for court-ordered boating safety education?
Yes, the course is approved by the state of California under the California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 668.3.
- When will boater be required to have a Boater Card?
Each year since January 2018 a new age group is added to those who are required to possess a valid card. From 2025, everyone operating a motorized vessel on California waterways will be required to carry the card. Once issued, the card is valid for life.
The California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 678.11(b) contains the following phase-in schedule based on operator age:
- Persons 40 years of age or younger January 1, 2021
- Persons 45 years of age or younger January 1, 2022
- Persons 50 years of age or younger January 1, 2023
- Persons 60 years of age or younger January 1, 2024
- All persons regardless of age January 1, 2025
- Who will be exempt from holding a boater card in California?
A person operating a rental vessel.
A person operating a vessel while under the direct supervision of a person 18 years of age or older who is in possession of a boating license.
A person who is a resident of a state other than California who is temporarily operating a vessel in California for less than 60 days and meets the boating requirements, if any, of his/her state.
A person who is a resident of a country other than the United States who is temporarily operating a vessel in California for less than 90 days and meets the boating requirements, if any, of his/her country.
A person operating a vessel in an organized regatta or vessel race, or water ski race.
A person who is in possession of a current commercial fishing license.
A person who is in possession of a valid marine operator license, for the waters upon which the licensee is operating, issued by the US Coast Guard, or who is in possession of a valid certificate issued pursuant to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978, as amended.
A person who has successfully completed a boating course approved by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
- Do I need a Boater Card if I'm only operating a jet ski/PWC?
Yes, the California Boat Card will be required for everyone wishing to operate a motorized vessel, including jet skis and PWC, on California waters (except those listed in the exemptions).
- Is it the California Boater Card the same as a boat license?
The California Boating Card is often called a “boat license”. The California Boating Card is mandatory for boating since January 1, 2018. Unlike a license, the Boater Card does not expire and does not need to be renewed.
- Do I need a driver's license to operate a motorized boat?
No, you do not need a driver's license to take the boating education course and obtain the California approved boater card.
- What safety equipment do I need to carry with me in the state of California?
You must carry life jackets/PFDs and a sound signaling device on all vessels. Depending on the type and length of the vessel and where and when you are boating you may need other equipment, including visual distress signals, navigation lights, a fire extinguisher etc. See the Equipment page for the full list of requirements.
- What are the benefits of taking a boating safety course?
The California Boat Card Program promotes boating safety on our waterways. U. S. Coast Guard accident data show that states with some form of boating safety education have fewer accidents and fatalities than states without any boater education requirements. In 2015, 724 Californian recreational vessels were involved in reported accidents and 49 boaters died. More than 232 boaters were injured needing treatment beyond first aid. Only one of the boat operators involved in fatal accidents had taken an approved course. Increased numbers of boaters taking approved safety courses will benefit all recreational boaters.
- How much time will it take to complete an approved boat safety course including the exam?
You must spend a minimum of three (3) hours studying the boating safety course, but you can take more time if you wish. You will then have as long as you need to complete the final exam.
- Will my California Boater Card be valid in other states?
Yes! All states with NASBLA-approved boater education requirements will accept the California Boater Card.
- Do I need to wear a life jacket when I'm operating a motorboat?
- Normally you do not need to wear a life jacket in a motorboat but you must make sure there is one US Coast Guard-approved life jacket readily available per person on board. Inflatable life jackets must be worn to count towards this requirement. If you are operating a personal watercraft you must wear a lifejacket.
- I lost my Boater Card - can I order a replacement?
Yes, you can request a replacement card for $5.
- Why should I choose ACEBOATER.com?
We have hundreds of illustrations that will help you to better understand the content.
Our online course is available 24/7.
You can access our online support by phone, email or chat.
We offer multi-platform training.
Our policy has always been, "Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back"!
- How long is the certification valid for?
Upon completion of our course, you will be certified for life.