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California boating laws and regulations

On January 1, 2018, the mandatory boating safety education law went into effect and is being 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.

Age restrictions

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...

Boating and use of drugs or alcohol

Boaters operating in California are subject to its laws governing the use of drugs or alcohol. No one is allowed to drive a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and operating a power craft in this way is a criminal offense...

Boat registration numbers & stickers

California boat registration number placement

  • On the forward part of your vessel well above the waterline
  • On both sides of the bow...

Boat Registration requirements - fees - renewal

What boats must be registered in California?

Which boats are exempt from registration in California? 

Boating License Requirements

Do I need a license to operate a power boat in California?

Depending on your age, you need a California Boater Card to operate a power boat in California.

The mandatory boating safety education law went into effect on January 1, 2018 and the Boater Card requirement is being phased in by age. By 2025 all operators of motorized vessels will need a California Boater Card.

  • January 1, 2018: Anyone 20 years old or younger must have a Card.
  • January 1, 2019: 25 years old or younger.
  • January 1, 2020: 35 years old or younger...

Life Jacket Laws & Requirements

California boating law requires to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-Approved Life Jacket for:

  1. all persons on board a PWC;

  2. anyone being towed behind a vessel;

  3. children under 13 years...

Required Boat Safety Equipment

In this section you will find the safety equipment that each type of boat must carry on board to comply with California regulations regarding boating...

No Discharge Zones

Discharging raw sewage into any of California’s lakes, rivers, reservoirs or coastal waters within three miles of shore is prohibited within U.S. navigable waters...

Oil Disposal

A word on prevention and clean-up of oil spills:

  • Check fuel lines on a regular basis and if deteriorated, replace them.
  • Use a closed system if you change your own oil...

Carbon monoxide poisoning

It is possible for someone to suffer carbon monoxide poisoning while on board vessels that are poorly ventilated, houseboats, or boats where an overhead canopy is affixed. When the air moves around the boat and creates a low pressure area just behind the wide flat transom, carbon monoxide will accumulate there...

Accident Report

When does an operator file an accident report?

Hit-and-Run Accidents...

Aquatic nuisance species

Aquatic nuisance species are non-indigenous species that threaten the diversity or abundance of native aquatic species. Two such ANS are the Zebra mussel and the Quagga mussel. States on behalf of water users spend tens of millions of dollars on attempting to control these prolific species every year...

Pumpout Station

For those who own a recreational watercraft, you must exercise diligence when it comes to protecting the waters of California. If you have installed a marine sanitation system such as a toilet, it must be connected to a holding tank with USCG certification, or you must make it secure so that there will be no discharges of sewage into the water...