California Boating Laws and Regulations
In Cali, you can boat, surf, paddle, windsurf, water-ski, scuba dive and swim in freshwater, saltwater and whitewater. The water venues are endless and they may have different rules and regulations for boaters. So, before planning out your California boating trip, make sure you know what the boating laws and regulations are in California and for your specific waterway.
Is a Boater Card required in California?
A California Boater Card is required to operate any motorized vessel on a state waterway. Each year, a new age group will be added to those who are required to possess a valid California Boater Card. By 2025, all persons who operate on California waters will be required to have one. Once issued, the card remains valid for a boat operator’s lifetime. California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 678.11(b) contains the following phase-in schedule based on operator age:
- 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
The card is issued by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW). DBW began issuing the California Boater Card on Dec. 1, 2017. The lifetime card fee is $10. The lost card replacement fee is $5.
What is a California Boater Card?
A California Boater Card NOT the same thing as a California driver’s license. The California Boater Card proves that you have taken an approved Boating Safety Course. The California Boater Card is not the same as a license because you do not have to renew it like a license. It is a lifetime card and does not expire.
How can I get my California Boater Card?
By taking the online BOATsmart! Course right here! Register for the BOATsmart! California Course today and you’ll be on the water with confidence in just a few hours! Once you’ve completed the course, submit your proof of education certificate at CaliforniaBoaterCard.com to obtain your official California Boater Card.
Do I need to wear a life jacket in California Waters?
In California, all boats (motorized or human-powered) are required to carry one, Coast Guard Approved, wearable life jacket or PFD for each passenger on board the boat. Everyone onboard a personal watercraft and anyone being towed behind a vessel must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
Additionally, boats greater than 16 feet in length are also required to carry one, Coast Guard Approved, Type IV (throwable) device on board the boat at all times.
Even if a life jacket is not required for your boating activity, we recommend you always WEAR IT California!
Children’s Life Jacket Laws in California
In the state of California, children under 13 are required to wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket on a moving recreational vessel of any length, unless the child is in an enclosed cabin, or they are passengers on a sailboat that they are tethered to, or they are on a vessel engaged in an emergency rescue situation. Parents, always make sure your child’s life jacket is the correct size, is properly secured and in good condition. It’s the law for kids to WEAR IT!
Boating and alcohol – what are the laws in California?
In California, it is against the law for anyone to operate a recreational boat or motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more. People under the age of 21 can be convicted of operating a boat or motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or higher and can be fined up to $100 for a first offense. Keep in mind, a BAC level of at least 0.05%, but less than 0.08%, may be used with other evidence in determining whether a person was under the influence of alcohol.
What are the fines and/or penalties in California for boating while under the influence?
A person 21 years of age or older, who is convicted of operating a boat while under the influence will face up to a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. A person under the age of 21, may receive a fine of up to $250 and may be required to participate in an alcohol education or community service program.
How to report boating accidents in California
If you’ve been involved in a boat accident in California, you’ll be required to submit a Boat Accident Report to the California Division of Boating and Waterways.
If a boat passenger is injured and required medical treatment beyond first aid, if a person is killed or died within 24 hours of the accident, or if a person has disappeared from the boat, you must submit the formal California Boat Accident Report within 48 hours of the occurrence. Under any other circumstances, the boating accident report must be submitted within 10 days. Stay safe out there boaters!
You can obtain an official California Boat Accident Report Form through most sheriff and harbormaster offices and many police departments. They may also be obtained by contacting the California Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) or by visiting www.dbw.ca.gov.
California Division of Boating and Waterways Information
The BOATsmart! California Boater Card Course has been approved by the California Division of Boating and Waterways. For more information, you can contact the California Division of Boating and Waterways at: