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California Boater Card - Mandatory Boating Safety Education Law

Beginning January 1, 2018, the mandatory boating safety education law goes into effect and will be phased in by age. If you operate any type of motorized vessel on California waterways (including powered sailboats/paddlecraft), you will be required to pass an approved boating safety examination and carry a lifetime California Boater Card.

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If you already passed the course, you only need to apply to the Division of Boating and Waterways to receive your card.The DBW is currently accepting all certificates of completion dated between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017. You can apply now. You have until the end of 2018 to apply under this scheme.

When will boat operators be required to have a California Boater Card?

The new requirement will begin on Jan. 1, 2018 for anyone aged 20 years and younger wishing to operate a motorized vessel on state waterways.

Each year from January 2018 a new age group will be added to those who are required to possess a valid card. From 2025, everyone operating a motorized vessel on California waters 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:

  • January 1, 2018: persons 20 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2019: persons 25 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2020: persons 35 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2021: persons 40 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2022: persons 45 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2023: persons 50 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2024: persons 60 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2025 All persons regardless of age. 

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What are the age restrictions to operate a motorboat 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 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 personal watercraft (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, this boating safety course is approved by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) under the California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 668.3.

Who will be exempt from needing a California Boater Card?

According to California law, the following persons will not be required to have a boater card to operate any motorized vessel on California waterways when the requirements go into effect beginning in January 2018:

  • 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 California Boater Card.
  • 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.

Is there a fine for violating the requirement to carry a California Boater Card?

Yes. A violation of this article (Harbors and Navigation Code Section 678.15) is an infraction. According to the person convicted of an infraction for a violation of this article shall be fined as follows:

  • For an initial conviction, by a fine of not more than $100.
  • For a second conviction, by a fine of not more than $250.
  • For a third or subsequent conviction, by a fine of not more $500.
  • A fine imposed on a vessel operator pursuant to subdivision (b) shall be waived, if the vessel operator provides proof that he or she had a valid vessel operator card at the time of the citation.
  • In addition to the fines imposed by subdivision (b), the court shall order a person convicted of violating this article to complete and pass a boating safety course approved by the division pursuant to Section 668.3.
  • If a person who is ordered to complete and pass a boating safety course pursuant to paragraph (1) is 18 years of age or younger, the court may require that person to obtain the consent of a parent or guardian to enroll in that course.
  • A person who has been ordered by a court to complete a boating safety course pursuant to paragraph (1) shall submit to the court proof of completion and passage of the course within seven months of the date of his or her conviction. The proof shall be in a form that has been approved by the division and that is capable of being submitted to the court or a state or local agency approved by the division through the US Postal Service or another certified means of transmission.

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