Boat leaving the dock

California Boater Card – The Comprehensive Guide

If you are one of California’s four million recreational boaters, you need to be aware of a significant change in California state boating law that will go into effect at the start of next year.  Beginning on January 1, 2018, California will begin implementing a new law that will effectively require all boaters to carry a vessel operator card while operating a recreational motorized vessel on California waterways. The required vessel operator card for the state of California is the California Boater Card.

Up until now, California was one of only five states that did not require boater certification or a boating license to operate a motor-driven watercraft. This new legislation has now made boater education a requirement in the state of California. If you are planning to be out on the water next year, it’s important that you understand the new California state boating law and what you can do to meet the new requirements.

What is the law change?Boating on the lake with family and friends

This specific change to the California boating laws stems from Senate Bill 941, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 18, 2014. Senate Bill 941 effectively mandates boater safety education for anyone who intends to operate a motor-powered vessel on California waterways. Beginning on January 1, 2018, the legislation will take effect for boaters under 20 years old. The new law requirements will gradually expand to apply to all boaters by 2025.

Why is the law changing now?

Boating accidents are a serious concern. In 2015, California reported 369 accidents and 48 deaths from boating accidents. Most of these accidents involved boaters who had not completed a boater safety education course. U. S. Coast Guard accident data shows that states with some form of boating safety education have fewer accidents and fatalities than states without any boater education requirements.

Senate Bill 941 was created with the intent of promoting boat safety on California waterways. Boaters will be required to complete boater safety training and pass a written test before they can be issued the California Boater Card. The state of California believes that increasing the number of boaters taking approved safety courses will benefit all recreational boaters and will help to eliminate accidents on the water. Educated boaters are safer boaters.

How will the law be implemented?

The California Boater Card requirement will be implemented in eight phases. Phase 1 begins on January 1, 2018, and covers all boat operators 20 years old and younger. At the beginning of each following year, another segment of the population will be required to complete the education process. This phase-in process will continue through 2025, when anyone operating a vessel, regardless of age, must successfully complete the education process. This rollout schedule is provided by CaliforniaBoaterCard.com:

  • January 1, 2018 – Persons 20 years of age or younger
  • January 1, 2019 – Persons 25 years of age or younger
  • January 1, 2020 – Persons 35 years of age or younger
  • January 1, 2021 – Persons 40 years of age or younger
  • January 1, 2022 – Persons 45 years of age or younger
  • January 1, 2023 – Persons 50 years of age or younger
  • January 1, 2024 – Persons 60 years of age or younger
  • January 1, 2025 – All persons regardless of age

Are there any exceptions to this new law?

Yes, there are exceptions to this law, most notably for an individual operating a rental vessel. Below is a complete listing of exceptions provided by CaliforniaBoaterCard.com:

  • A person who is a resident of another state or a foreign country who is operating a vessel and meets either of the following requirements:
    • The person is temporarily using the waters of this state for a period not to exceed 60 days, and meets the applicable requirements, if any, of his or her state of residency.
    • The person is temporarily using the waters of this state for a period not to exceed 90 days, and meets the applicable requirements, if any, of his or her country of residency.
  • A person operating a vessel while under the direct supervision of a person 18 years of age or older who is in possession of a vessel operator card issued pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 678 or who is not required to possess a vessel operator card pursuant to paragraph (6).
  • A person operating a vessel in an organized regatta or vessel race, or water ski race.
  • A person operating a rental vessel.
  • A person who is in possession of a current commercial fishing license.
  • A person who is in possession of a valid marine operator license, for the waters upon which the licensee is operating, issued by the United States Coast Guard, or who is in possession of a valid certificate issued pursuant to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978, as amended.
  • A person who has successfully completed a boating course approved by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

What is the California Boater Card?

California Boater Card
California Boater Card

The California Boater Card will show that its holder has successfully taken and passed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and state-approved boater safety education exam. The California Boater Card will be issued by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways. The card will cost $10 and the lost card replacement fee will be no more than $5. Applications for the California Boating Card will become available in late 2017.

How do I get my California Boater Card?

The California Boater Card can be obtained by completing the following steps:

1.  Complete a boating safety course

Boating safety course providers must be approved by NASBLA and be state-approved by the California Division of Boating and Waterways. Courses may be taken via classroom, home study or online.

The self-paced, online course available from Boat-Ed.com/California is approved by the California Division of Boating and Waterways as well as by NASBLA. Successful completion of this course will fulfill California state requirements for your boat safety education and allow you to move onto the next step in attaining your California Boating Card.

2.  Apply for the California Boater Card online

The Division of Boating and Waterways plans to start accepting California Boater Card applications in late 2017. Applications for the California Boating Card can be found at CaliforniaBoatingCard.com.

What happens if I don’t have a California Boater Card?

If you are planning to operate a motorized vessel on California waterways, then carrying the California Boater Card will be a mandatory requirement. Failing to comply with this new law can result in fines ranging from $100 to $500, based on the number of previous violations. The schedule of fines is below:

  • For an initial conviction, a fine of no more than one hundred dollars ($100).
  • For a second conviction, a fine of no more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250).
  • For a third or subsequent conviction, a fine of no more than five hundred dollars ($500).

I tried applying for the California Boater Card but it isn’t available yet. What should I do?

The California Division of Boating and Waterways plans to start accepting California Boater Card applications in late 2017. As of this time, a specific date has not been determined. In the meantime, you can take a DBW approved boating safety course listed on their website and be grandfathered into receiving your California Boating Card. Once you have passed an approved safety course, keep your certificate until the Division starts accepting applications. DBW will be accepting all certificates of completion dated January 1, 2015 – December 31, 2017 from the approved course vendors.

Where can I learn more about boating laws in California?

The Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) is an official state division that serves all types of recreational boaters. For questions about boating legislation, visit their website at http://www.dbw.ca.gov/. Additionally, Boat-Ed.com/California offers a detailed breakdown of California boating laws and regulations.

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