California Boater Card – The Comprehensive Guide

Updated on February, 12, 2020.


On January 1, 2018, California’s new boating education law went into effect, requiring all California boaters to carry the California Boater Card while operating a recreational motorized vessel. The law is being phased-in by age for operators of motorized boats on California waterways. This new legislation makes boater education mandatory in the state of California.

What is the new California boating law?Boating on the lake with family and friends

The latest change to California boating laws stemmed 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. On January 1, 2018, the legislation took effect for boaters under 20 years old and new law requirements will gradually expand to apply to all boaters by 2025.

Why did the law change?

In 2015, California reported 369 accidents and 48 deaths from boating accidents. A vast majority of the accidents involved boaters who hadn’t completed a boater safety education course. U. S. Coast Guard accident data concluded states with some form of boating safety education had fewer accidents and fatalities than states without any boater education. This fact prompted the development of a safer solution.

Senate Bill 941 was created with the intent of promoting boat safety on California waterways. Boaters would 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 believed increasing the number of boaters taking approved safety courses would benefit all recreational boaters and drastically reduce accidents on the water. Educated boaters are safer boaters.

How is the law implemented?

The California Boater Card requirement will be implemented in eight phases. At the beginning of each 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, will successfully complete the education process. Phase 1 began on January 1, 2018, and covered boat operators 20 years old and younger. Phase 2 began on January 1, 2019 and covers operators 25 years and younger. The following rollout schedule is provided by and encompasses the remaining phases:

family on a boat with arms back

  • 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 law?

Below is a list of exceptions provided by

  • 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

The California Boater Card shows the carrier 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 is issued by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways. The card costs $10. Applications for the California Boating Card are available here.

How do I get a California Boater Card?

To get your California Boater Card, follow these 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 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 are accepting California Boater Card applications. Applications for the California Boating Card can be found at

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

If you plan to operate a motorized vessel on California waterways, the California Boater Card is mandatory. Failure to comply will result in fines which increase based on the amount of previous violations. Fine violation escalation is as follows:

  • 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).

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 Additionally, offers a detailed breakdown of California boating laws and regulations.


  1. Unfortunately, Georgia does not require a boat operators card to operate a boat. There are many of us working to change that but we have not gotten there yet. I am glad to see that California has done so and hope to see other states that currently do not require it make a change also.

  2. I agree with the education of this license, I don’t agree that people from other countries or states aren’t required to have one also. Everyone should be aware of the laws and regulations and hopefully by having this card the lakes and waterways will be safer for all.

  3. This is such an important step for boater’s safety. I’m hoping that the lawmakers here in Texas take notice and pass a similar law here. Love spending the lake on the lake, but I’m sure it would be better if I knew everyone on the water had a “license” to be there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *