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Do you know what the safe boating rules are?

by Terri Mackinnon


I was recently asked about the new boating regulation changes and how the changes would affect the average weekend warrior operating on the waterways around U.S and Canada. Although I really didn't feel I knew the full answer to what the new rules were, I set out to find some of the answers.


It seemed that it was not going to be a quick and easy answer to my quest. There were regulations changing everywhere. In the U.S. it would depend on the state that you were in to follow the change that had already taken place or was going to take place. Canada had also set its own standard to be followed and by September 2009 full licensing will be required.


I found the following information on the website of Boater Exam and it was extremely helpful. I also found that the site itself was also very user friendly. I would highly recommend that you investigate your own country or state regulations through Boater Exam.


Boating Licenses ARE available for the following areas and I would suggest that you take the opportunity to purchase yours online. You will have immediate access to having your license and making sure that you are meeting the requirements for your area.


To find out more about your Canadian Licenses:

U.S States information and licensing can be found at:

For the following states: Alabama Alaska California Colorado Delaware District of Columbia Florida Georgia Indiana Kansas Kentucky Mississippi Montana Nevada New Mexico New York North Carolina North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma Oregon Pennsylvania South Carolina South Dakota

Tennessee Utah Virginia Washington West Virginia Wyoming


This information was extremely useful from the Canadian Boater Exam site.


Question and Answers regarding Canadian Pleasure Craft Licenses - each state will also have independent information:


Q. Why do boaters now need to have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

A. Recreational boating is a favorite pastime in Canada with between seven and nine million people enjoying Canadian waterways each year. Sadly, not every boating excursion is a return trip: Over 200 boating fatalities occur each year along with an estimated 6,000 non-fatal accidents - most of them preventable. The general public and pleasure boaters had expressed concern that anyone of any age could operate a watercraft without having any prior boating experience. The Pleasure Craft Operator Card regulations are an attempt to reduce the number of boating related accidents & fatalities. The goal of the program is to encourage boaters to evaluate their capabilities and limits, to prepare themselves adequately before heading out, and to be responsible on the water.


Q. Who needs the Pleasure Craft Operator Card and when?

A. All operators of powered watercraft used for recreational purposes within Canada will eventually require the card. The following three groups of boaters require the card IMMEDIATELY:


  • All operators of any powered watercraft under 4m in length (13.1ft)

  • All operators of PWC's (i.e.: sea-doos and jet skis)

  • All operators of any powered watercraft born after April 1, 1983


As of September 15, 2009 all boaters will be required to have the Pleasure Craft Operator Card in order to operate a powered watercraft. There is no grandfather clause or age exemption - this law applies to all boaters. Powered watercraft includes watercraft fitted with any size motor - even a trolling motor.


Q. What is the difference between a Pleasure Craft Operator Card and a Pleasure Craft License?

A. The Pleasure Craft Operator Card applies to the driver of the boat, while a Pleasure Craft License applies to the boat itself.


A Pleasure Craft Licence is the number placed on the side of each recreational vessel as required under the Small Vessel Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act. The number is used to assist law enforcement and search and rescue organizations in identifying each individual pleasure craft.


You can apply for a Pleasure Craft License at any Service Canada Centre across the country. For the location nearest you, visit or call 1.800.O-CANADA.


Q. Do I need a driver's license to operate a watercraft?

A. No, a driver's license is not required to operate a watercraft. You do require your Pleasure Craft Operator Card on board with you while operating a powered watercraft.


Q. What are the penalties and/or fines if you do not have your card?

A. Fines for common boating offences*:

Speeding - $100

  • Operating a vessel in a careless manner - $250

  • Underage operation of a personal watercraft - $100

  • Operating a power-driven pleasure craft without the required Pleasure Craft Operator Card - $250

  • Insufficient number of approved, appropriately sized flotation devices - $200 for each absent device

* Source Transport Canada


Q. How will this law be enforced and by Who?

A. The law will be enforced by peace officers. The law requires that the operator of a powered watercraft carry his Pleasure Craft Operator Card, as well as proof of age, with him at all times.


Q. My boat is over 4m. Why should I get the card now?

A. There are many advantages to having the card now, such as:



You may be eligible for a reduction in marine insurance if you have your Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Verify with your insurance company

  • Without the card, you cannot operate PWC's or powered boats under 4m (13.1 ft). This law applies not only to the boats you own, but also to any boats you operate (such as a friend's or neighbour's boat).

  • The Card is good for life.

  • The Card is recognized across Canada.


Q. Is there a grandfather clause or age exemption?

A. No, there is no grandfather clause or age exemption - this law applies to all operators, regardless of age.


Q. I have a sailboat. Do I need an Operator Card?

A. If you have an auxiliary engine fitted to your sailboat, then you need the Card. This applies even while you are under sail.


Q. Do Native Americans or Inuit people need to have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

A. Yes, unless the boat is being used for sustenance reasons (such as hunting or fishing). A Pleasure Craft Operator Card is only required for recreational boating activities.


Q. I operate a boat for work purposes. Do I need the Card?

A. No. A Pleasure Craft Operator Card is only required by operators of watercraft being used for recreational purposes. It is common however for many commercial establishments (such as marinas, and fishing & hunting lodges) to ask their staff to obtain their Pleasure Craft Operator Card.


Q. What if I don't live in Canada, but boat there?

A. Non-residents only need to obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card if they are operating a powered boat in Canadian waters for more than 45 consecutive days (this includes rented boats) or if the boat they are operating is registered or licensed in Canada. Boater Education Cards or equivalent certifications are recognized in Canada. Proper identification should be kept on board at all times to provide proof of residency.


Q. What about horsepower restriction for children?


Power Restrictions

Under 12 years of age, and not directly supervised

Can operate vessels with under 10 hp

Between 12 years and under 16 years of age, and not directly supervised

Can operate vessels with under 40 hp

Under 16 years of age

Not allowed to operate a PWC

16 years of age and over

No power restrictions


Q. Why do operators of smaller boats need the card now, but not yet for bigger boats?

A. The law is phased in gradually - by 2009 all operators of all powered pleasure craft will require the card (regardless of their age, the length of their boat, or the size of their motor).


Q. What if I rent a powerboat or PWC?

A. Currently, a Pleasure Craft Operator Card is not required in order to operate a rented watercraft. Instead, it is sufficient for a renter to complete a rental safety checklist. Take note however that some companies have made it their corporate policy to require renters to have their Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Below is a sample copy of a rental safety checklist.


Q. Are these laws federal or provincial?

A. The laws governing the Pleasure Craft Operator Card are a federal requirement, and apply in all provinces. A Pleasure Craft Operator Card obtained in one province is equivalent to a Pleasure Craft Operator Card obtained in another province.


Q. Where can I boat with the Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

A. The Pleasure Craft Operator Card allows Canadian citizens to operate their watercrafts recreationally on all Canadian waters where permitted.

The fines for not having your Pleasure Craft Operator Card on board with you vary province by province; it may be as high as $250. Please check with your local enforcement detachment for more information.


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