A California boating license or Boater Card is required for all applicants under the age of 20 operating a motorized vessel on state waterways. All applicants, regardless of age, will be required to hold a boater card after 2025. While educational courses are mandatory for anyone applying for a license, they are also available to boaters interested in expanding their knowledge. Course fees may vary. Online boating license applications are available to residents and visitors. Applicants may also apply by mail.

The state’s safety laws must be adhered to all times. Further restrictions are placed on minors operating vessels without an adult present. Boat registrations are required for all eligible vessels operating on CA waterways. Applications may be submitted in person or by mail. Registration and title fees vary.

Do you need a license to drive a boat in California?

Effective January 1, 2018, boat cards must be held by operators younger than of 20 years of age. While the new law currently applies to younger applicants, all California residents will eventually require a license. The following schedule reflects when each group will be legally required to hold a boater education card to operate a motorized vessel on state waterways.

  • January 1, 2018 – 20 years old or younger
  • January 1, 2019 – 25 years old or younger
  • January 1, 2020 – 35 years old or younger
  • January 1, 2021 – 40 years old or younger
  • January 1, 2022 – 45 years old or younger
  • January 1, 2023 – 50 years old or younger
  • January 1, 2024 – 60 years old or younger
  • January 1, 2025 – All boaters

California Boat License Requirements

While the state’s mandatory boating license age does not currently include all applicants, boaters must be at least 16 years old to apply. The requirements are different from neighboring states. Therefore, you are required to apply for a license if you operate a vessel on state waterways. You do not need to be a resident to apply for a CA license. A boating education course is not required if the applicant is:

  • Operating a rental vessel.
  • Visiting from another state or country and operating a vessel for less than 60 days. In addition, the requirements of their own state or country must be met.
  • Involved in a regatta, water ski or vessel race.
  • In possession of a commercial fishing license.
  • In possession of a marine operator license.

Getting a Boat License in California

Applicants must apply for a boating license through the state’s online portal. In all cases, proof of having passed a boater course must be provided. When applying, you will have four options to submit proof. You must choose one of the following methods during the application process:

  1. Upload your boat safety certificate.
  2. Enter your safety course boat certificate ID number.
  3. Mail your boating safety education certificate to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
  4. Declare that you have not taken the course.

Once you have chosen the method of submitting your boaters safety course records, you may finish the application online. Follow the below steps to complete the process:

  1. Choose the option marked ‘New.”
  2. Enter your personal information, such as your name, age and address.
  3. Choose one of the above methods to satisfy the educational requirements.
  4. Pay the fee. The online portal accepts credit and debit cards. Payment may also be sent by check through the mail.
  5. Print the confirmation

If you are mailing your course certificate or paying by check, you must include the printed confirmation coversheet in the envelope. Once the application and payment has been received, you will be emailed a temporary card within three to five days. Temporary cards are only valid for 90 days. Your permanent license will be mailed to you within 60 days. All mailed-in certificates and payments must be sent to the following address:

Department of Parks and Recreation
Division of Boating and Waterways – California Boater Card
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001

California Boater Safety Courses

California’s boaters safety courses are approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW). Courses may be completed in a classroom, online or at home. Studies show that states with boating education have fewer accidents and fatalities. While applicants under the age of 20 are the only bracket currently required to take classes, after 2025 all boaters will need to pass the examinations.

Depending on the type of course, the length may vary. An online boaters safety course is roughly three hours in length, while a classroom course is typically eight hours. Courses cover boating laws, boating rules, boat handling, equipment, navigation and accident reporting. A boater exam must be completed when the education course is finished.

If you apply for a boater education card before taking your exam, you must submit the card’s ID number to the course provider. Once you have completed the course, the provider will send your application to the Division of Boating and Waterways.

Renewing and Replacing a California Boating License

Do boating licenses expire? No. Once issued, your license is valid for life. However, if you lose your card, you can replace it. Replacements may be ordered through the state’s online portal. Follow the below steps to complete the process.

  1. Choose the option marked ‘Replacement’.
  2. Enter your personal information, such as your name, age and address.
  3. Pay the replacement fee.
  4. Print the confirmation receipt, if applicable.

A temporary license will be emailed to you with three to five days of your application being received. Your new card will be mailed to you with 60 days. If you are paying by check, you must include the confirmation coversheet in the envelope and send all items to the below address.

Department of Parks and Recreation
Division of Boating and Waterways – California Boater Card
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001

California Boat Registration Basics

A boat registration certificate may be applied for by mail or in person at the DMV. Applicants cannot apply for a boat registration online. Not all vessels are subject to the state’s registration laws. However, all eligible boats brought into the state must be registered within 120 days. Exceptions may apply. Applicants must submit the registration application form, proof of ownership and payment before a certificate can be issued. A title may also be applied for using the same form.

The registration and title must be kept on the vessel at all times when in the water. Similarly, stickers must be placed on the vessel in specific locations. Registration and title fees vary. Mussel fees and sales taxes may also be applied.

California Boating Rules and Regulations

The state’s boating regulations must be adhered to at all times. Depending on the type of vessel you are operating, the safety equipment required may vary. There are six categories of vessels:

  1. Human-powered vessels
  2. Sailboats
  3. Motorboats less than 16 feet in length
  4. Motorboats less than 26 feet in length but longer than 16 feet
  5. Motorboats less than 40 feet in length but longer than 26 feet
  6. Motorboats less than 65 feet in length but more than 40 feet

Depending on the specific boat requirements, you may need to carry some or all of the following safety equipment:

  • Life Jackets
  • Navigation Lights
  • Sound Signaling Devices
  • Visual Distress Signals
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Backfire Flame Arrestor
  • Muffling System
  • Ventilation System

California boating laws state that minors under the age of 16 cannot operate a vessel if the motor is greater than 15 horsepower. There are exceptions to this rule. Sailboats less than 30 feet long or dinghies close to shore may be operated by those younger than 16 years old. In addition, CA boating rules state that minors between the ages or 12 and 15 years old may operate motorized boats if accompanied by a licensed adult over the age of 18.

California Boating License Fees

The state boating license fee is $10. Replacements may be ordered for $5. If applications are sent via the mail, additional postage fees may be applied. Educational fees vary depending on the location and type of course. Certain online courses are free to eligible applicants.

Last updated on Friday, December 7 2018.

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