California Boater Card: Don’t get behind the wheel (of a boat) without it

Boater safety education will be mandatory in California at the beginning of 2018.

STATEWIDE ― Stating the obvious: a license is mandatory to drive a vehicle on our roads or fish in our waters. However boaters in California were never required to carry a license to operate a motorized recreational vessel. However the law is changing as California rolls out mandatory boater safety education starting in less than nine months.

The first demographic required to carry the state-mandated California Boater Card by Jan. 1, 2018 are those boaters between the age of 16 and 20 years old. At the start of each year after that, another age group will be required to carry the card.

All boaters will be able to sign up for a California Boater Card once the mandate takes effect. While boat operators 20 years old or younger must possess valid proof of education as of Jan. 1, 2018, any older person has the option to meet the state’s licensing requirements at the same time. There is no need to wait until a specific age group is required to possess a Boater Education Card.

All boat operators in California, regardless of age, will be required to carry a California Boater Card by 2025.

The complete rollout scheduled for required boater cards based on age is available online at

In order to acquire this card, boaters will need to enroll in an approved boater safety course and pass an exam.

Whether enrolling online or in a class, the course must be approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASLBA) and the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW). To find a NASLBA and DBW approved course, boaters can go online at

“Boaters can take the course now and keep a copy of their certificate and when DBW starts issuing cards, [boaters] can go online and apply for their card,” Greg Imura of California State Parks stated. “We will be grandfathering in those boaters who have taken and passed a NASBLA and CA approved course in the last 3 years dated January 1, 2015-December 31, 2017 from the approved course vendors.”

The cost of the California Boater Card is expected to be no more than $10 with a replacement fee, if lost, of no more than $5. The card is good for a lifetime.

If a boat is stopped by harbor patrol for a certain reason, a harbor patrol officer may ask to see the California Boater Card.

“Every peace officer of this state …shall have the authority to stop and board any vessel subject to this chapter, where the peace officer has probable cause to believe that a violation of state law or regulations or local ordinance exists,” as stated in the Harbor and Navigation Code (Section 663).

If a person operating a motorized boat on California waterways does not have a California Boater Card when required, the boater is in violation of an infraction.

Those convicted of a first infraction are subject up to a $100 fine, up to a $250 fine on the second conviction and up to a $500 fine for a third and any further convictions. “In addition to the fines imposed…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,” as stated in Harbors and Navigation Code Section 678.15.

California law currently prohibits any person 16-years-old or younger to drive a boat with a few exceptions.

No one under the age of 16 years is allowed to operate a boat with more than a 15 horsepower engine under California law “except for a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore (or between two moored boats). The law allows children 12-15 years of age to operate boats with a motor of more than 15 horsepower or sailboats over 30 feet if supervised on board by an adult at least 18 years of age,” the California Boater Card website states.

California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) will be issuing the card to those who qualify and plan to do so prior to Jan. 1, 2018.

There is not an exact date of when boaters can obtain the card prior to Jan. 1, 2018. However, DBW will begin testing the database in September and start issuing California Boater Cards to qualified boaters in the fall of this year, according to California State Parks staff.

Boater safety education is for the benefit of everyone on the water, and boaters can enroll now in a mandatory boater safety class.

A study done in 2015 found “724 California recreational vessels were involved in reported accidents and 49 boaters died,” as stated on the California Boater Card website. “Only one of the boat operators involved in fatal accidents had taken an approved boating safety course.”

Senate Bill 941 requiring boater safety education was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014.

As the Tesla song goes “signs, signs, everywhere signs,” soon there may be signs at a dock or launch ramp near you stating “California Boater Card required to navigate waterway.”



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12 thoughts on “California Boater Card: Don’t get behind the wheel (of a boat) without it

  • Next will be a crap tax (poop)

  • I’ve already taken a online boater safety class 15yrs ago approved by USCG. Now politicians get there sticky fingers into boating. This state is pathetic, new taxes coming your way soon. What they should do is make everyone who buys a boat, or any trailer for that fact take a Drivers License test !!! Boating test, eh ok. The real need is for the donkeys driving to the ramp !!

  • Leroy Achoy

    More Commie BS from the Criminals that are known as the Democrat Party.
    Just another reason to move out of state.

  • If I have a current Coast Guard Captains license, do I really need to get this card?

    • Mary K. Riewer

      Ed, now you are getting what the Masters of Towing Vessels felt when we had to take that state test for “Assistance Towing”. It was a joke. The requirements for Licensing should rest with the US Coast Guard, not the state! The boating public is also getting what a lot of Private Pilots got when the Feds discovered that too many were failing the physical. So, they instituted a lesser class than Private Pilot. It still reams you for every dime they can wrest from you while providing a lower level of service. Any time a state gets involved in Licensing you can bet it is for financial gain only. They can care less about the boating public.

  • Ace Carter-SUPER ANGLER

    Ditto to the above comments plus…

    The CA Dept. of Boating And Waterways stinks and should be dissolved…

    They add nothing but providing more cubicle jobs for lazy bums and loafers…

    Will there be stinky, crowded DMV type offices staffed by morons, where we can go stand in long lines..?

    Gee I sure hope so, don’t you..?

    Boat driving licenses… What a swell idea… How DID we ever get by without them all these years..?


  • Just another way for CA Democrats to tax and fine boaters so Jerry Brown can afford to buy you a Crazy Train.

  • “Valid for life” Don’t bet on it. This is about $$$. The state is billions in the red. If a harbor patrol officer see’s something wrong there’s nothing stopping him from doing his duty. With over 20 years of boating accident free and certificates of class completion from US Power Squadrons and Dept. of Boating & Waterways (too long ago) I’m expected to start over. Couldn’t I just pay them and be on my way? I’ve got just 7 years now to get out of this crooked assed state

  • Lifelong Sailor Since 1950s Mark

    Just another government money scam. I vote to fire the entire DB&W and anyone else that had anything to do with this money grab. It’s just used to grow the government and give raises to the bums / REAL parasites that are already there,,, for life. Is this the straw that will break our backs? The last $5 or $10 slide into more and more money??? When will we say, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH? Fire them all (left and right, top to bottom).

    That’s my 2 cents.

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  • Mary K. Riewer

    Boating Licenses are just one more nail in the coffin of the Freedom of the Sea! I got my first boat at the age of 4 when my parents bought their first Cruiser. Knowledge and skill used to be the pride of Mariners. I was so proud the day I received my first 100-ton Inspected Passenger License, and my Master of Towing Vessels, and my DDE Engineer’s LIcense. and all the other Licenses I earned through sea-time and study. Those were Professional Licenses issued by the US Coast Guard.
    Boating was a family activity and kids were encouraged to learn the Rules of the Road and master the skills of powerboats, sailboats, etc. Then boating became more under the scrutiny of the US Coast Guard, it seemed every time you left the slip you would be stopped, boarded, questioned. And the taxes that went with Marine fuel, owning a boat, etc spiked. The Boating public seemed to lose all voice in government. I still own a house in California, but probably not for much longer. I tire of being the cash cow for illegal immigration, Illegal taxation and heaven forbid I try to enjoy the salary I earn by going out in a boat, going for a dive, going fishing….. , California under the Democrats is like watching Lava pour over the Island of Hawaii. It is just as dangerous, just as tragic, and it is unstoppable. California’s coastal beauty will never die, but the freedom to enjoy it is breathing it’s last. Will the last true mariner to leave California please turn out the lights and lower the flag? Because the freedom we all used to enjoy is dying an ugly death, fueled by the punitive taxes of envy by those who refuse to produce their fair share. And will someone please tell me why we allow Governor Moonbeam to act as he will without question. We have the right to demand accountability of our Government, so why isn’t anyone doing it? I know I can never live in CA again. I refuse to surrender my Constitutional Rights to those who come here illegally with the collusion of California’s so-called Lawmakers. They are nothing but monkeys in a cage spending their aggression by throwing dung at one another. They do not deserve to hold office. They certainly do not deserve the power to regulate the lives of California’s citizens. Will the citizens act to defend their rights, or once again capitulate to those who act illegally. With great sadness, I know what the answer will be. American seafarers were once the best in the world. How sad that tradition will end, brought down by those who are no more than jackals. I wonder what will happen when the need comes again for the skills that only Professional Mariners possess. Because the professional licenses start with sea-time. And California’s legislators are taxing that education and experience out of reach!

  • Christopher

    I’m visiting my uncle from California and I currently live in South Carolina. I’ve taken the course and received my boating license in South Carolina. Would my card be valid California?



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