California Boating Laws and Regulations

Age and Operator Restrictions

California law requires a person to be 16 years of age or older to legally operate a vessel powered by a motor of 15 hp or more, including personal watercraft (PWCs).

Exceptions to this law are:

  • Persons 12 to 15 years of age may operate a vessel powered by a motor of 15 hp or more, including PWCs, if they are supervised on board by a person at least 18 years of age.
  • There is no age restriction for operating a sailboat under 30 ft. long (with wind as the main source of propulsion) or a dinghy used between a moored vessel and shore or between two moored vessels.

It is illegal to permit a person under the age of 16 to operate a vessel powered by a motor of 15 hp or more, including PWCs, without onboard supervision by a person 18 years of age or older.

Additional Information

Any person convicted of any moving violation in the Harbors and Navigation Code, the Federal Rules of the Road and regulations adopted by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways while operating a vessel must be ordered by the court to complete and pass a boating safety course approved by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways. Proof of completion and passage of the course must be submitted to the court within seven months of the time of the conviction. This boating safety course will satisfy court‐ordered mandatory boater education required by California law when a boater is convicted of a moving violation.

Enforcement

Coast Guard or local law enforcement officers patrol the waterways to make your boating experience safe and pleasant. Cooperate with them by following the laws and guidelines.

Carry the Card: Vessel operators who are required to have a Boater Education Card must carry the card on board the vessel and have it available for inspection by an enforcement officer.

Penalty: Not carrying your Boater Education Card when one is required can result in a fine.

Reciprocity

For visiting boaters, all states, territories, and provinces will recognize boating education cards that meet NASBLA requirements and Canadian Pleasure Craft Operator Cards that meet Transport Canada’s requirements. (This is known as “reciprocity.”)

Need help? Here are the answers to the questions California Boating students most frequently ask.

Frequently Asked Questions