It’s officially summertime, and there’s nothing better than being out on the water with a cold drink, sunscreen and your favorite people. But a ticket for operating a boat without a licence can ruin that perfect day. In California, boating laws govern who can be on the water and when so it’s important to get a California Boater Card.

A California Boater Card is a legal requirement in the state of California. On January 1, 2018, California began phasing in Boater Cards by age. By January 1, 2025, every boat operator will need a valid California Boater Card—which means every California boater will need to complete an approved course and exam prior to January 2025. 

Why do I need a California Boater Card?

In 2018, California reported 369 boating-related accidents and 33 boating deaths. Boater error caused too many of those incidents. The California Boaters Card Law introduced graduated licencing as of 2018 to make boating safer for everyone.

If you’re a California boater, you must now take a state-approved boating safety course, pass an exam, and carry an official California Boater Card to legally operate watercraft.

Official requirements for obtaining a California Boater Card

The law phases in required Boater Cards by age over the next five years.

  • By January 1, 2020 Persons 35 years and younger.
  • By January 1, 2021 Persons 40 years and younger.
  • By January 1, 2022 Persons 45 years and younger.
  • By January 1, 2023 Persons 50 years and younger.
  • By January 1, 2024 Persons 60 years and younger.
  • By January 1, 2025 All persons regardless of age.

How do you get your California Boater Card?

The first step to a legal day on the water is to find a boating safety education course to pass a state-approved test. The test qualifies you to operate a motorized boat. It also educates you to be a responsible boater, which improves the general safety of everyone boating on California waters. BOATsmart! is NASBLA-approved and recognized by the Coast Guard and state authorities. BOATsmart! gets you test-ready in three hours (compared to eight hours with other courses) and can be completed from any device at any time.

The final test is open-book with unlimited retries. Upon completion you’ll receive a certificate which can be used to apply for your official Boater Card.

What are the consequences of not taking a boater safety education course?

No Boater Card? Get ready to pay $100 for a first-time offence, $250 the second time, and $500 the third. A California Boater Card through an accredited safety education course is essential for California boaters.

What does it cost to take an online boater safety education course?

The cost varies but BOATsmart!’s online course costs $29.95 for lifetime course access.

Why BOATsmart!?

With a focus on safety and knowledge, BOATsmart! is the best choice for California boaters looking for an efficient online course. We’re big fans of lake and ocean days over here! It’s our job to get you ready for a day on the water that goes off without a hitch. All you need to worry about is sunscreen and having enough water and snacks in your cooler, right? Let us do the rest.

Learn more about California boating laws

Stay up-to-date on the latest California boating rules and regulations with our comprehensive guide. Learn everything you need to know from fines and registering your boat to life jackets and the environment.