Age Restrictions

In California, you do not need a license to operate a boat. However, some states do require boaters to be licensed or to have taken a boating safety course. Therefore, it is important for boaters to check with the boating law administrator’s office in the state you plan to boat in. For contacts in other states, visit the National Association of Boating Law Administrator’s Member Directory.

The following are the age restrictions for operating a boat, according to California law:

  • A person should be 16 years or older to legally operate a vessel powered by a motor of 15 horsepower or more, or a sailboat over 30 feet in length.
  • Persons between 12-15 years of age under the supervision of a person on board who is at least 18 years old can operate a motorboat of 15 horsepower or more, or a sailboat over 30 feet in length.
  • Persons between 12-15 years of age can operate, without supervision, a sailboat shorter than 30 feet or a dinghy that is used between a moored vessel and the shore or between two moored vessels.


In California, boater education is mandatory only for those who are convicted of a moving violation while operating a boat. Convicted boaters have to complete and pass a course approved by the DBW.
But anyone can choose to take a boating course, as it will help in more efficient and safe boating. Additionally, taking the course and a test may help reduce boat insurance premiums.
In an approved course, students learn how to operate and maintain their boats, the legal requirements for boating, and what to do in emergencies. This ensures that boating remains a safe and fun experience.
There are various approved ways you can complete the course:

  1. Classroom options are offered by the U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary, US Power Squadrons, Boating101 and Aquatic Centers operated by colleges, universities and other institutions, among others. You can view the complete list of DBW approved courses here.
    • The course duration is a minimum of eight hours.
    • Fees vary depending on the organization, course and duration.
    • Some of these organizations, like Boating101, also offer hands-on courses. But you will have to take a written exam before attending the hands-on course.
  2. Approved online options are offered – See the top of the page for more info on online courses.
  3. You can view the complete list of DBW approved courses here.
  4. These courses may take up to 8 hours to complete; some options require you to complete the course in one sitting.
  5. Course materials are free. Some providers charge a fee for exams. See the providers’ websites for details.
  6. The California Boating Safety Course is conducted by Cal Boating, California DBW, which allows boaters to study at home at their own pace. An optional exam may be taken and the answer sheet can be forwarded to the DBW for grading. Once the course is successfully completed, a Certificate of Completion will be mailed in 4-6 weeks. This boating safety course can be ordered online here or a pdf version can be downloaded here. To obtain the test form, you can call (888) 326-2822 or email a request to


  • While liability insurance is not mandatory for boating in California, it is a good idea to have liability insurance to tide over troubles if you or someone operating your boat is involved in a boating accident.
  • Read the course material for the California Boating Safety Course.
  • See how to register your boat in California.
  • Check the contact information of the California Department of Boating and Waterways.
  • Read the ABC’s of California Boating Law.

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