Here’s what you need to know about operating a boat in Canada

Depending on where you live or where you’re vacationing, odds are that the rules are different for boating, boating licenses and everything in between. If you’re in Canada or are travelling to Canada to enjoy a long day on the boat, you might find yourself wondering: do you need a license to drive a boat in Canada?

You are required to have a PCOC — also known as a Pleasure Craft Operator Card — which many people do (incorrectly) refer to as a Canadian boating license. So, to put it simply, you are required to have proof of competency to boat in Canada.

What’s a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

A PCOC — or Pleasure Craft Operator Card — is a federal competency card given to Canadian boaters once they take a boating safety course and complete an accredited Transport Canada Boating Safety Test. The PCOC is a federally mandated competency card valid in all Canadian provinces and territories.

What is a Pleasure Craft License?

A Pleasure Craft License, not to be confused with PCOC, is a document that contains a set of ID numbers. The document must be carried onboard your boat at all times, and the numbers must be displayed on your boat for identification purposes. The number must be displayed on both sides of the bow, above the waterline, as far forward as possible, in block letters at least 7.5 centimetres high that contrast with the colour of the boat. 

Who needs a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

In Canada, you must have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card if you are an operator of any motorized recreational vessel. This includes personal watercraft (PWC), motorized sailboats and small boats with electric trolling motors. Your PCOC must be carried onboard the entire time the boat is in operation.

Who needs a Pleasure Craft License?

All motorized boats and PWCs in Canada that are powered by a motor with a horsepower of 10 or more are required to have a Pleasure Craft License. The licenses — which are valid for 10 years — can be obtained for free from the Pleasure Craft Licensing Centre. 

Are there exemptions to the Pleasure Craft Operator Card rule?

As of September 15, 2009, all operators of recreational motorized boats are required to obtain proof of competency. There are no exemptions for age, horsepower, or boat length. 

These regulations also apply to indigenous people, however — they do not apply if the vessel is being used for daily living or subsistence activities (such as hunting and fishing practised by many indigenous peoples). Though a Pleasure Craft Operator Card is the best way to prove proof of competency, and the following are forms of proof of competency:

  • A Pleasure Craft Operator Card
  • Proof of having completed a boating safety course prior to April 1st, 1999, or have obtained an approved marine certificate
  • A completed rental boat safety checklist (required for operating a rented motorized boat)

Non-residents who are operating a non-Canadian registered vessel in Canada for up to 45 days do not require proof of competency. However, non-residents who operate a Canadian-registered vessel in Canada must carry proof of competency on board at all times. Proof of residency must also be carried on board during operation. 

What are the penalties for boating without a PCOC?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) enforce Canada’s boating laws. Operators found boating without their Pleasure Craft Operator Card can face a fine of $250 in most provinces. In Saskatchewan and Alberta, be prepared to be fined up to $10,000.

How do you get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

To get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card in Canada, you’ll need to take an accredited boating safety course and then pass a Transport Canada Boating Safety Test. That’s where BOATsmart! comes in with a completely narrated, engaging and animated curriculum built to help Canadian boaters safe. 

You can access the BOATsmart! course on any device at any time, and can work through it on your own time. The course, which is perfect for all skills and age levels, is perfect for every Canadian boater needing a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. 

Are you ready to take your course? Register here, and start boating in Canada safely.