Canada's Boating Laws, Rules & Regulations

There’s a lot of important things to know about driving a boat or powered watercraft in Canada. That’s why boaters are required to carry a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. 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.

Transport Canada Marine Safety and Security Tower C, Place de Ville, 330 Sparks Street Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N8 1-800-267-6687

Why do boaters need a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

In the past, any person of any age could operate a recreational boat without any minimum boating safety knowledge, experience or training.

In order to reduce boating related deaths and injuries, the federal government of Canada enacted the Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations which requires all operators of recreational motorized vessels to obtain and carry proof of competency. The most common form of proof of competency is a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, commonly known as a boat card, boat license or boating license.

Proof of competency can be any of the following:

  • Most common: A Pleasure Craft Operator Card which is obtained after passing an accredited Transport Canada boating safety test

  • Proof having passed a boating safety course in Canada prior to April 1, 1999

  • A completed rental-boat safety checklist, which is valid only for the duration of the rental period

  • For foreign visitors to Canada, an operator card or equivalent which meets 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)

    Who needs a boating license in Canada?

    Any person, of any age who operates a motorized recreational boat requires a Pleasure Craft Operator Card.* If caught without the Operator Card, boaters face a minimum $250 fine.

    Does Transport Canada issue Pleasure Craft Operator Cards?

    Accredited Course Providers administer the exam for boaters and issue Pleasure Craft Operator Cards. BOATsmart!® is an official Pleasure Craft Operator Card provider recognized and accredited by Transport Canada to offer the boating safety test and certify boaters for their Operator Card.

    Where can I boat with a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

    A Pleasure Craft Operator Card* is required in all Canadian provinces. It is not currently required in the waters of Nunavut and Northwest Territories at this time.

    I lost my boating license. How do I replace the lost Card?

    BOATsmart!® maintains a national database of Pleasure Craft Operator Cards. Please contact us toll free at 1-877-792-3926 or info@BoatSmartExam.com to obtain a replacement card, or order a replacement online now. A standard fee of $19.95 applies and BOATsmart!® offers discounts when multiple cards are ordered.

    What is a Pleasure Craft License?

    A Pleasure Craft License is a document that contains a set of ID numbers that must be displayed on your boat for identification purposes.

    Canada’s Small Vessel Regulations require all boats that are mostly operated or kept in Canada of all sizes with a propulsion motor of 10 hp or more to have a Pleasure Craft License. If your boat is already licensed, you should ensure that your contact information is up-to-date. You can obtain a 10 year license for free from the Pleasure Craft Licensing Centre. You can download a Pleasure Craft License Application at www.boatingsafety.gc.ca, email obs-bsn@tc.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-267-6687. Using the Pleasure Craft License Application form you can:

  • get a new pleasure craft licence;

  • transfer a licence;

  • update information in the licensing system;

  • get a duplicate licence; or

  • cancel a licence.

    A copy of your vessel license must be carried on board with you during operation, and you must display your Pleasure Craft License number above the waterline on both sides of the bow, as far forward as practical, and where it can be easily seen. The numbers must be in block letters, at least 7.5 cm (3”) high, and must contrast with the colour of your boat’s hull.

    A Pleasure Craft License is a document that contains a set of ID numbers that must be displayed on your boat for identification purposes.

    Canada’s Small Vessel Regulations require all boats that are mostly operated or kept in Canada of all sizes with a propulsion motor of 10 hp or more to have a Pleasure Craft License. If your boat is already licensed, you should ensure that your contact information is up-to-date. You can obtain a 10 year license for free from the Pleasure Craft Licensing Centre. You can download a Pleasure Craft License Application at www.boatingsafety.gc.ca, email obs-bsn@tc.gc.ca or call toll free 1-800-267-6687. Using the Pleasure Craft License Application form you can:

  • get a new pleasure craft licence;

  • transfer a licence;

  • update information in the licensing system;

  • get a duplicate licence; or

  • cancel a licence.

    A copy of your vessel license must be carried on board with you during operation, and you must display your Pleasure Craft License number above the waterline on both sides of the bow, as far forward as practical, and where it can be easily seen. The numbers must be in block letters, at least 7.5 cm (3”) high, and must contrast with the colour of your boat’s hull.

    What are common boating offences and fines?

    The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), provincial and municipal police forces and other authorized local authorities enforce boating laws in Canada. Authorities may inspect your boat and monitor your boating activities to make sure you are operating safely and within the law. This may include checking for safety equipment, your Pleasure Craft Operator Card and careless operation on the water. Fines can vary province by province, so be sure to check with your local jurisdiction for up-to-date information. You should be aware that some offences can result in fines for both the operator as well as the person who allowed the operation of the vessel.

  • Operating a vessel if you are underage $250

  • Failing to have proof of competency on board $250

  • Operating a boat in a careless manner $350

  • Operating a boat without equipment in working order $200

  • Operating a vessel in an unsafe manner $500

  • Not having an approved Life jacket or PFD on board $200*

  • Not having a spotter to watch person in tow $250

  • Not having an extra seat(s) for person(s) in tow $250 *per person

    Can I operate a boat anywhere in Canada with my boating license?

    The Pleasure Craft Operator Card is good for life and valid in all Canadian provinces including Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland.

    Will my Canadian Boating License ever expire?

    The federal government of Canada has not proposed a renewal requirement for the Pleasure Craft Operator Card. 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 for non-powered pleasure craft?

    Canada’s proof of competency requirements only apply to motorized vessels (those vessels fitted with engines and/or propelling machinery). If you operate a vessel without the engine running (i.e. paddling) but your craft 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?

    Taking a boating safety course is an excellent way to ensure you have the knowledge you need to boat safely and is strongly encouraged for all ages. Boaters who take the test in person may challenge the boating safety test without taking a course. However, when completing the official exam online, boaters are required to complete the online boating course before attempting the final test.

    Do I need a boating license for my kayak or canoe (non-powered watercraft)?

    Non-residents require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card* if:

  • They operate their pleasure craft in Canadian waters for more than 44 consecutive days or,

  • They operate a pleasure craft that is licensed or registered in Canada (including rented boats)

  • The Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations do not apply to foreign boaters who operate their pleasure craft (a boat licensed in a country other than Canada) in Canadian waters for less than 45 consecutive days. It is important to note that proof of residence is required on board at all times.

    What is covered in the BOATsmart!® Course?

    The BOATsmart!® course is approved by Transport Canada and includes all of the knowledge required to pass the Pleasure Craft Operator Card test. When completing the online boating course, you’ll learn everything you need to:

  • Understand boating safety basics and terminology

  • Understand the Acts, Code and Regulations that govern Canada’s waterways

  • Equip your boat with the right equipment and know how to use it

  • Properly maintain your vessel and its equipment

  • Share the waterways and operate your boat in a safe and responsible manner

  • Have confidence when navigating amongst other boat traffic during the day or night

  • Be able to recognize different marker buoys and navigate using

  • Canada’s aid to navigation system

  • Know how to respond in emergency situations

    What laws govern boaters under 16 years of age and young boaters?

    The Age and Horsepower Restrictions govern the operation of motorized boats in Canada. There are restrictions in place which limit the size of motor a person under the age of 16 can operate without supervision.

    Youth under 16 years of age cannot legally operate a personal watercraft (PWC) under any circumstances.

  • Under 12 years of age with no direct supervision: May operate a boat up to 10hp

  • Ages 12 to 16: May operate a boat with up to 40hp

  • Under 16 years of age, regardless of supervision: Cannot operate a PWC

  • 16 years of age and older: No hp restrictions

    Remember: Regardless of age, all operators of motorized vessels in Canada require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card.*

    *Pleasure Craft Operator Card or proof of competency

    What safety equipment do I need for my boat?

    Various sizes and types of boats require different safety equipment. The following safety equipment is generally required on all types of boats and watercraft:

    Approved Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) and/or Lifejackets for each person on board

    Buoyant Heaving Line

    Bailing Device

    Manual Propelling Device (Paddle or Oar)

    Sound Signalling Device (Whistle or Horn)

    Bilge Pump


    Boats and sail powered craft operating at night also generally require:

    Reboarding Device (Ladder)

    Anchor

    Flashlight

    Flares


    Boats and sail powered craft equipped with inboard engines and/or inboard gas tanks require:

    Fire Extinguisher


    Larger boats (over 8 m in length) also generally require:

    Life Buoy

    Axe


    You should check specific regulations for your size and type of craft. The above list is for general reference only.

    Buying A Boat in Canada

    If you are buying a new boat in Canada, you must ensure that is has a Hull Identification Number (HIN). If the boat has a motor or is designed to have one, your boat also requires a Canadian Compliance Notice. Manufacturers and importers must place a HIN and Canadian Compliance Notice on every boat that is fitted with a motor, or can be fitted with a motor. If you plan on purchasing a boat that does not have the required HIN and Canadian Compliance Notice, ask the seller to get them for you before you buy.

    If you are thinking about buying a used boat, the first thing you should do is hire a competent marine surveyor to examine the boat, who will give you a fair opinion on the boat’s current condition and will let you know what changes (if any) need to be made to bring the boat up to standard. A marine survey can help you make sure that the boat meets the construction requirements that were in place when it was built.

    Remember: Once you purchase and take ownership of a boat, you must ensure that it is up to standard when you operate it on the water. It’s important to remember that a Canadian Compliance Notice indicates that the boat met the construction requirements at the time it was built – so modifications or changes to the boat over time may mean that the Compliance Notice is no longer valid. Get all of the facts before you buy.

    If you are buying a boat from another country, you must remember that:

    The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will ask you for specific importation documents, as well as information on the boat and the seller to confirm the sale and assess the duties and taxes on the boat. Before bringing a boat across the border, visit the Canada Border Services Agency online to find out what you will need from the seller.

    Construction requirements for pleasure craft differ from country to country. Make sure that the boat meets the construction requirements of the Small Vessel Regulations in Canada. If you’re importing a boat, it must meet the construction requirements that are in force on the day it is imported. If it doesn’t meet these requirements, you may be required to modify the boat or watercraft before it’s imported.

    If you will be towing the boat on a trailer, you should recognize that a trailer is considered a motor vehicle. Therefore the requirements are different from those that apply to your boat. Contact the CBSA to learn more. You should also contact your provincial or territorial transportation office to learn about any requirements that may apply. 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 (and the trailer if you are buying one). Don’t forget to contact the appropriate authorities in that country well in advance of purchasing your boat, to find out what export requirements may exist.

    Do I need recreational boat insurance in Canada?

    You are not legally required to insure your boat, however it is highly encouraged. If you’re financing the purchase of a new boat, your lending institution will require that you insure your investment. It is important to consider the coverages you require, and 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. This is usually the case, but if you are insured through your homeowner’s policy it will likely only cover small boats either with no engine, or with a small engine. Remember, your boat has nothing to do with your home, just like your car doesn’t. 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 will cover damage to your boat as well as the liability of others (should you happen to be involved in a collision). You will be covered for unexpected damages, such as striking a submerged rock or running aground. You can also 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 and policies can even include roadside assistance.

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