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Campfire Collective Oct 1st, 2018

Canadian Boating Laws, Rules, Regulations

Aerial view of flybridge cruiser boats properly docked in marina.

There is a lot to know about how to drive a boat or powered boat in Canada. That’s why boaters must carry a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC), commonly called a “boat license”. It’s sort of like a license that says, ‘hey, I’m a certified smart boater’.

BOATsmart!® Exam is accredited by Transport Canada and a proud member of the Canadian Safe Boating Council

Why do boaters need a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

Boating education saves lives! The requirement to have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card means that every person who operates a boat in Canada has boating safety knowledge.

In the past, any person of any age could operate a boat without any boating safety knowledge or training. Sounds a bit scary right?

Consequently, the federal government of Canada put in place the Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations, to reduce boating-related deaths and injuries.

All operators of recreational motorboats must now carry proof of competency under these regulations.

What is “Proof of Competency”?

The most common form of “proof of competency” is a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. The PCOC is commonly known as a boat license, boating license or boat card.

Proof of competency can be any of the following:


  • Most common: A “Boating License” or Pleasure Craft Operator Card, obtained after passing the Transport Canada boating safety test with BOATsmart!
  • Proof of passing a boating safety course in Canada before to April 1, 1999
  • A complete rental-boat safety checklist, which can be used only for the duration of the rental period
  • For foreign visitors to Canada, an operator card or equivalent meeting the requirements of their own state or country
  • A specialized marine certificate (must be from the List of Certificates of Competency, Training Certificates and other Equivalencies accepted as Proof of Competency when Operating a Pleasure Craft)
BOATsmart! docking course material on tablet with PCOC card.
BOATsmart! PCOC card.

Get your Official Canadian
Boating License

The Official Transport Canada Boating Course, Test & License.

Get your Official Canadian
Boating License

The Official Transport Canada Boating
Course, Test & License.

Who needs a PCOC and when?

Any person who operates a motorized boat in Canada must have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Additionally, boaters caught without the card will be fined a minimum $250 fine.

How do I Get a Boating License in Canada? 

Take the Official BOATsmart! Course, and Transport Canada Boating Safety Test with BOATsmart! to get your Boating License (Pleasure Craft Operator Card).

It’s easy! Just sign up to take the animated and narrated online course with BOATsmart!

Take the course from the comfort of your own home. The final test is open-book! Print your temp card right away, and head out on the water once you pass the test. Seriously, it’s that easy.

Does Transport Canada issue the PCOC?

Accredited Course Providers administer the exam for boaters, and issue Pleasure Craft Operator Cards.

BOATsmart!® is an official Pleasure Craft Operator Card provider. Additionally, we’re recognized and accredited by Transport Canada to offer the official boating safety test, and certify boaters for their Boating License (Pleasure Craft Operator Card).

Where can I operate my boat with my Pleasure Craft Operator Card (Boating License)?

You can operate a boat anywhere in Canada, and more than 40 States! Additionally, you need a Pleasure Craft Operator Card or “Boating License” to legally operate a motorized recreational boat in all Canadian provinces. However, Nunavut and Northwest Territories. do not currently require it.

How do I replace my lost Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

BOATsmart!® maintains a database of Pleasure Craft Operator Card holders. Please contact us toll-free at 1-877-792-3926 or go to our Lost Cards page to get a replacement Boating License card now. A fee of $19.95 applies. However, BOATsmart!® offers discounts when you by more than one car. That way, you can keep your cards in multiple spots and never risk a fine!

What is a Pleasure Craft License?

A “Pleasure Craft License” differs from a Boating License or “PCOC”. A Pleasure Craft License is a document for your boat that contains a set of ID numbers. You must carry this document with you on your boat at all times. Additionally, you must display the ID number on your boat in a specific location. Think of it sort of like a license plate for your boat.

According to the Small Vessel Regulations, all boats that are mostly operated or kept in Canada, and have a motor of 10 hp or more must have a Pleasure Craft License.

You must display your Pleasure Craft License ID Numbers above the waterline of your boat, on both sides of the bow.

In addition, the numbers must be as far forward as possible, where they can be easily seen. They must be in block letters, at least 7.5 cm high. Additionally, the number must contrast with the colour of your boat.

If you already have a license for your boat, be sure that your contact info is up to date.

You can obtain a 10-year license for free from the Pleasure Craft Licensing Centre.

In fact, you can even download a Pleasure Craft License Application at www.boatingsafety.gc.ca or, email obs-bsn@tc.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-267-6687.

Use the Pleasure Craft License Application form to:

  • get a new pleasure craft licence;
  • transfer a licence;
  • update information in the licensing system;
  • get a duplicate licence; or
  • cancel a licence.

What are common boating offences and fines?

You’ll be fined for the following common boating offences: 

  • If you operate a boat underage $250
  • If you fail to have proof of competency on board $250
  • You operate a boat in a careless manner $350
  • Operate a boat in an unsafe manner $500
  • You don’t have an approved Life jacket or PFD for each person on board $200*
  • You don’t have a spotter to watch a person being towed $250
  • Operating a boat without the equipment in working order $200
  • You don’t have an extra seat for a person being towed $250 *per person

You should know that some offences result in fines for both the operator AND the person who allow the vessel to be operated. This means that if you lend someone your boat, and they’re convicted of a boating-related offence, you can be charged too.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), provincial and municipal police, and other authorized local authorities enforce Canada’s boating laws. These authorities may inspect your boat or boating activities at any time to ensure that you operate within the law.

These inspections may include checks for safety equipment, your PCOC, and careless operation on the water. However, fines can vary province by province.  

Is the Pleasure Craft Operator Card (Boating License) valid across Canada?

The Pleasure Craft Operator Card is good for life and valid in all Canadian provinces. This includes OntarioQuebecBritish Columbia (BC)AlbertaManitobaNova ScotiaNew BrunswickPEISaskatchewan and Newfoundland.

Will I ever have to renew my operator Card?

The federal government of Canada has not proposed a renewal requirement for the Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Additionally, the Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations does not mandate that boaters will have to renew their Operator Card.

Do I need a boating license to drive a non-powered boat?

Canada’s proof of competency requirements only apply to motorized boats (boats fitted with engines and/or propeller). Additionally, if you operate a boat without the engine running but it is fitted with an engine, you still require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card.

Do I need to take a course before I write the boating safety test?

Take a boating safety course to ensure that you have the knowledge you need to boat safely. In fact, it’s strongly encouraged that boaters of all take a safe boating course.

Boaters who take the boating safety test in person may “challenge” the test without taking a course. However, if you take the test online you must complete the online study guide before the final exam.

If I’m not a resident of Canada do I need a boating license? 

Non-residents require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card if:

  • They drive their boat in Canada for more than 44 days in a row OR,
  • They drive a boat that is licensed or registered in Canada (this includes rented boats)

Keep in mind, the PCOC regulations do not apply to foreign boaters who operate in Canadian waters for less than 45 days in a row. However, you must have proof of residency on board at all times. This applies to operators whose boats are registered in a country other than Canada.

What is covered in the BOATsmart! Course?

The Transport Canada Approved BOATsmart!® course includes all of the knowledge you need to pass the Pleasure Craft Operator Card test.

When you complete the online boating course, you’ll learn everything you need to:

  • Understand boating safety basics and terminology
  • Understand Canada’s boating laws and regulations
  • Keep all the right equipment on your boat, and know how to use it
  • Maintain your boat and its equipment
  • Share the waterways with other boaters
  • Drive your boat in a safe and responsible manner
  • Have confidence when navigating around other boat traffic during the day or at night
  • Recognize different marker buoys
  • Navigate using Canada’s navigation system
  • Know what to do in emergency situations

What the age and horsepower restrictions for boaters in Canada?

Age and horsepower restrictions apply to the following boaters in Canada:

Boaters under 12 years of age:

  • May operate a boat without a supervisor if the boats motor is 10 hp or less
  • May not operate a “Personal Watercraft” such as a jet-ski

Boaters ages 12 – under 16:

  • May operate a boat without a supervisor if the boats motor is 40 hp or less
  • May not operate a “Personal Watercraft” such as a jet-ski

Boaters 16 years of age or older:

  • May operate any recreational boat, of any horsepower, without supervision, including Personal Watercraft

Remember: All operators of motorized boats in Canada require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card or Proof of Competency no matter their age.

What safety equipment do I need for my boat?

Your boat requires different safety equipment depending on its size and type. However, all types of boats in Canada generally require the following equipment:

  • Approved Life Jackets for each person on board
  • Buoyant Heaving Line
  • Bailing Device or Bucket
  • A paddle or Oar
  • A whistle, horn or bell
  • Bilge Pump

Motor boats and sailboats operating at night also generally require:

  • Reboarding Device (Ladder)
  • Anchor
  • Flashlight
  • Flares

Motorized boats and sailboats equipped with inboard engines and/or inboard gas tanks require:

  • Fire Extinguisher

Boats over 8 metres in length also generally require:

  • Life Buoy
  • Axe

Check specific regulations for your size and type of boat. The above list is for general reference only.

What is a Hull Identification Number?

A Hull Identification number or “HIN” is a 12-digit number that helps to identify lost or stolen boats. In addition, boats that are subject to a recall are also identified by their HIN.

All boats with or without motors that were built or imported into Canada after August 1st, 1981, must have a HIN.

What is a Compliance Notice?

A Compliance Notice is a metal label that is attached to your boats’ hull. It must be visible from the operators’ seat.

A Compliance Notice tells you:

  • The maximum number of adults your boat can safely carry
  • The maximum total weight your boat can carry including passengers, equipment and motor assembly (this is called the “Gross Load Capacity”)
  • The recommended safe engine horsepower your boat can handle, based on its Gross Load Capacity.

Which boats need to have a compliance notice?

All boats less than 24 metres in length, and are equipped with or designed to be equipped with a motor, must have a Compliance Notice.

Buying a boat in Canada

The first thing you should do when you buy a boat is to hire a competent marine surveyor.

They will give you a fair opinion on the boat’s current condition. Additionally, they can tell you if any changes need to be made to the boat to bring it up to standard.

A marine survey helps you make sure that the boat meets the construction requirements that were in place when it was built.

Remember: You must ensure that your boat is up to standard when you operate it on the water once you take ownership.

Additionally, the boat you purchase should also have a HIN and a Compliance Notice (if required).

A Compliance Notice indicates that the boat met the construction requirements at the time it was built. However, the Compliance Notice may no longer be valid if any significant modifications or changes were made to the boat.

Get all of the facts before you buy.

Buying a boat from another country

If you buy a boat form another Country, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will ask you for specific documents, to assess the duties and taxes on the boat. This includes information on the boat and the seller.

To find out what you will need from the seller, visit the Canada Border Services Agency online before you bring a boat across the border.

Pleasure craft construction requirements differ from country to country. Make sure that the boat meets the construction requirements of the Small Vessel Regulations in Canada.

Additionally, you must make sure your boat meets the construction requirements that are in force on the day of import.

If it doesn’t meet these requirements, you may need to modify the boat or watercraft before you import it.


If you tow a boat on a trailer, recognize that a trailer is considered to be a motor vehicle. Therefore, the requirements are different from those that apply to your boat.

Contact the CBSA to learn more.

To learn about any other requirements that may apply, contact your provincial or territorial transportation office.

Please visit Transport Canada for a complete list of these offices.

Remember: There may be export requirements in the country where you plan to buy the boat. Contact the appropriate authorities in that country well in advance of your boat purchase, to find out what export requirements exist.

Do I need recreational boat insurance in Canada?

You are not legally required to insure your boat, however it is highly encouraged. Additionally, if you finance the purchase of a new boat, your lending institution requires that you insure your investment.

It is important to consider the coverages you require, and is typically best to insure your boat with an “all risks” policy.

If you’re new to boating, you may be under the impression that your homeowner’s policy covers your boat. Although this is usually the case, if you are insured through your homeowner’s policy it will likely only cover small boats which have no engine, or a small engine.

Remember, your boat has nothing to do with your home. Furthermore, just like your car, boats are best insured through an insurance policy designed to protect the type of vehicle being insured. Your homeowner’s insurance will not sufficiently protect your investment.

Good recreational boat insurance covers damage to your boat as well as the liability of others (should you be involved in a collision). You will be covered for unexpected damages, such as if you strike a submerged rock or run aground. In addition, you can purchase comprehensive coverage against theft, vandalism, fire and flood, as well as personal property coverage for items such as boating, watersports and fishing gear. Your trailer can be covered too, and policies can even include roadside assistance.

Your boat is a significant financial and emotional investment. Protect your investment and boat with confidence. Insure your boat with a comprehensive marine policy.

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