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Do You Have a California Boater Card?

After last month’s Fleet Week, we received a letter from Capt. Dane Faber of Sausalito, wondering about the California Boater Card and its level of use within the Bay Area.

“Wouldn’t it be a great story to learn the compliance percentage of folks who have actually gotten one?” Dane wrote.

As of January 1, 2024, the card will apply to “Persons 60 years of age or younger.” And the following year, it will be everyone, regardless of age.
© 2023 California Boater Card

We shared the news of the card’s imminent introduction in December 2017.

“Signed into law in 2014, the Boater ID Law will begin phasing in by requiring boaters 20 years of age and younger to have the new Boater Card. Each new year, a new age group will be added until 2025, when all persons who operate a motorized vessel on California waters will be required to have one. (Motorized vessels include sailboats with any sort of engine on them. Do you have an Opti with an outboard on it? Then you would technically be considered a ‘motorized vessel’ and subject to the card requirement when your age group is phased in.)”

The table below is shown on the California Boater Card website, under FAQ:

As of the dates shown below, these boaters will be required to carry a boater card issued by DBW, unless they meet certain exemptions.

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

At the time of our writing, it wasn’t clear how enforcement of the card would work, or what type of boaters it would target — “Will high-powered motor boats be more heavily scrutinized than sailboats, or will enforcement be equal across all boat types?”

It seems perhaps these and other questions are still unanswered.

“Listening to VHF 16 today (7 Oct) ahead of air show,” Dane continued, “leads me to think very few have bothered, and those who may have acquired it sail with impunity anyway.”

We imagine this comment was inspired by the various boating skills in action during events such as Fleet Week. Seasoned skippers know to look out for boaters who have either no idea of the rules, or no regard for them.

Fleet Week is a madhouse of activity on San Francisco Bay.
© 2023 Latitude 38 Media LLC / LaDonna

Our questions for today are, “Do you have a California Boater Card?” And, “Have you ever been required to show your California Boater Card?”


  1. Andy Newell 3 months ago

    I got a CA boaters card a few years ago even though I am in the ‘old fart’ category and it is not yet required. I have not encountered CG or law enforcement since I had it. CG asked for CA drivers license and boat documentation (registration) last time they came aboard but the boaters card was not a thing yet.

    The subject matter is pretty basic and tailored more toward power boats than sail.

  2. Candy 3 months ago

    Yes, I spent an afternoon a couple of months ago to go through the free BoatUS online course for CA although I wouldn’t be required until 2025. Frankly, it seems like another CA scam to extort $10 from people & I seriously doubt it will have the desired result of reducing on-water mishaps. As a non-resident of CA, it was particularly annoying as CA will not accept my state’s card. In addition, the law does NOT require a Boater Card for somebody to rent any type of watercraft such as while on vacation. Furthermore, I have no idea how they plan to enforce this. I guess they will just wait until somebody causes a problem & then ask.

  3. Jim Peterson 3 months ago

    I am 70 and got my boater card a couple of years ago. I have never shown it to anyone even though I have been boarded twice by the Coast Guard for their random safety inspections.

  4. Rich Brazil 3 months ago

    I have one. I’ve never been asked to show it to anyone. I read in Latitude that the Mexican Navy may start asking for proof of boating certification. This card will suffice.

  5. Greg 3 months ago

    Nope it is good for people who might need it like power boaters but I have enough boating certifications, which should override a basic Boating card. I am filling out any paying fees for just about everything I do in life and I don’t think it’s necessary.

  6. Francois Pelletier 3 months ago

    Yes, my wife and I got our boater cards. Never been asked to show it to anyone as well.

  7. Tim 3 months ago

    Got one. Gives me a discount on my boat insurance too.

  8. Klaus Kutz 3 months ago

    It’s a bunch of BS and just one more way to extort a few dollars from California boaters.
    It won’t make being on the water any safer. Common sense, study and awareness and respect on the water is what matters.

  9. Noel Farmer 3 months ago

    The fact that folks renting power boats on Lake Tahoe are not required to obtain the card proves it is nothing more than a phony ass money grab by the State. On tahoe it is common knowledge amongst the local boating community to keep an eye out for the Red and Blue Top boats. They are almost all very cheap Reinel boats and usually not on plane and ignoring all the rules of right of ways. They ignore speed limits in Emerald Bay and close to shore. The attitude from the rental companies is if you have a valid ID and a credit card you are qualified to rent a boat.

  10. Craig Russell 3 months ago

    I received mine during Covid and have since had two inspections by the CG. Passed both inspections, but was never asked about the card.

  11. Max Crittenden 3 months ago

    I don’t have one yet. My USCG 50T license let me off the hook, but it came up for renewal last year and I didn’t bother. However, I’m still off the hook for another year because of my age. Yay!

  12. Bill Crowley 3 months ago

    I have been safely boating in CA since 1958 (65 years?) without the benefit of a $10 plastic card. Would adding one to my wallet at this late stage in the game make me a safer boater? I am skeptical!

  13. Phil Jay 3 months ago

    I have a 50 ton masters but went ahead and got the card anyway. The cost some people bitch about was a $10 donation to Boat US which provided the online course and exam. I found the subjects covered to be very thorough and informative. If everyone on the water passed the test and got the card, things would be a lot safer, especially in the areas of lights, rules of the road, etc. I doubt the Coast Guard will check for the card because they are federal. Local law enforcement would most likely be the ones to check. I have not been asked for my card.

  14. Mike 3 months ago

    Got one, lost it. Costs $5 to get replacement but takes about 90 days to get the replacement. Never been asked but guess I’ll just say it’s in the mail. Wish I had it in Mexico as it qualified as a “skippers licenses” for a zarpe to exit the country that was needed earlier this year.

  15. JOE MACIOROWSKI 3 months ago

    My entire family got them a few years ago, I played instructor when needed for a few navigation questions otherwise all passed 100% with ease. To quote my daughter “It is mostly common sense and very similar to driving a car”
    That said I have encountered way too many people who do not know the basic right of way rules on the bay. Or common sense when around ships.

  16. Tim Collins 3 months ago

    I have one, although it’s unlikely we see any enforcement in SF bay. The program is run by California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways.

  17. Bob Adams 3 months ago

    I got mine during the pandemic. Great way to spend social isolation time! I keep it onboard with my boat’s registration, etc but have never needed to show it to anyone.

  18. Brad Smith 3 months ago

    I wonder about the term “operate “. A friend just bought a J105 and when day sailing it often is just the two of us. If I have to get the boat back to the dock, then I imagine I “operate” the boat. What is the fine if I don’t have the card? Turns out it is $100 so I will skip the card, my Hobie doesn’t need one. My guess is it cost $100 in time for paper work to process the fine. This is likely about soaking the money up front.

    • Phil Jay 3 months ago

      You got ripped off. It’s $10 online with boat US.

  19. BT 3 months ago

    ‘Got a boater card here in Washington state though I’ve been on the water pretty steadily since 1950 in sail &power, raced, cruised, delivered boats, crossed oceans, etc., and am convinced of its uselessness – except maybe as an excuse for insurance companies to not pay claims of non-carded boat owners who can’t or don’t hire good enough lawyers. The lessons & test were entirely too simple to serve the alleged purpose.

    The card’s pimps should be ashamed.

  20. Dave 3 months ago

    Yes, I have the card. I have not yet been asked to show it. I would assume law enforcement won’t start asking to see it until some time after the final age bracket requirement in 2025 goes into effect.

  21. Christine Weaver 3 months ago

    I got mine in 2020. I keep it in my wallet, but I have never been asked to show it. I had already taken qualifying safety courses (including US Powerboating and a US Sailing Safety at Sea seminar for offshore sailing) so the process was quick and easy.

  22. David N Henry 3 months ago

    I got mine this year before leaving on the Ha Ha. I would have been required to have by 1/1/24 anyway. I’ve been boarded before. I wanted to be set this time.

  23. Lawrence Radcliffe 3 months ago

    As an old fart I opted to get one anyway early on. Its helped to small sailboats overseas, but I’ve never been asked to show it here in CA.

  24. Randy Gridley 3 months ago

    I got the boater card last year even though it’s not yet required for an old guy like me. I figured why not? So far I haven’t ever been asked to produce it but figure it doesn’t hurt to have it on board.

  25. JJ 3 months ago

    money is not the issue with the card it is big brother at work!
    the state can check boat ownership against boating cards.
    When they come up with a $ fine number they will not need to
    check for it when you are on the water.

  26. Steve Berl 3 months ago

    I got mine in preparation for the 2023 Baja HaHa as some sort of card like this is required in Mexico.
    I haven’t been asked to show it to anyone yet, but haven’t had any interaction with authorities.
    I think it is good that people new to boating go through the training. Maybe some of the info will stick. At least people will be aware that there ARE rules.

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