Boater cards required for ages 20 and younger


Beginning Jan. 1, all persons 20 years of age and younger who operate any motorized recreational vessel on state waterways, including powered sailboats and paddlecrafts, are required to carry a boater card issued by California Department of Boating and Waterways.

Each year a new age group will be added to those required to possess this card. By 2025, all persons who operate on California waters will be required to a boater card. The card, issued by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW), shows that its holder has successfully taken and passed a NASBLA/state-approved boater safety education examination.

The card fee is $10; replacement cards are $5. 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

Instructions on how to apply for your California Boater Card are found at

A list of approved courses can be found at Approved online courses run a minimum of three hours to complete. Classroom and home study courses vary in length, with most classes no more than eight hours.

Once DBW has received your application, proof of education and payment, you will receive a 90-day temporary boater card by email and the official boater card by mail in approximately 60 days.

What are the benefits of taking a boater safety course? Not only is mandatory education the law, the California Boater Card Program promotes boating safety on waterways. U. S. Coast Guard accident data show that states with some form of boating safety education have fewer accidents and fatalities than states without any boater education requirements.

In 2016, more than 800 California recreational vessels were involved in reported accidents, resulting in 50 deaths. More than 266 were injured in severity beyond first aid treatment. Only one of the boat operators involved in fatal accidents had taken an approved boating safety course. Increased numbers of boaters taking approved safety courses will benefit all California boaters.

According to California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 658.5, No person under 16 years of age may operate a boat with a motor of more than 15 horsepower, except for a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore (or between two moored boats). The law allows children 12-15 years of age to operate boats with a motor of more than 15 horsepower or sailboats over 30 feet if supervised on board by an adult at least 18 years of age. Violating these provisions constitutes an infraction.