Water Safety

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Life Jackets (also known as PFDs)

Do children have to wear life jackets on boats?

Yes, every child 12 years of age and under on board must be wearing a life jacket for all vessels 26 feet or less in length.

What’s the rule about life jackets on human-powered vessels – canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and rafts?

All kayaks, paddleboards, canoes and rafts, regardless of length, must carry a Coast Guard-approved life jacket in serviceable condition and of a type and size appropriate for the intended wearer, the conditions and the boating activity. The life jacket must be within easy reach for each person on board. Every child 12 and under must be wearing their life jacket on a paddleboard, kayak, canoe or raft.

What about people being towed behind a boat?

Anyone being towed behind a vessel – on waterski, wakeboard, any inflatable or other device – must wear a life jacket.

How many life jackets do I have to carry on my boat?


All boats, powered or non-powered, must carry at least one wearable Coast Guard-approved life jacket for every person aboard. Also, all boats 16 feet or more in length, except canoes and kayaks, must carry one throwable device in each boat.

Boating License

Do I need a special license to operate a boat in California?

If you are a California resident, you may need to get a license called a California Boater Card. As of January 1, 2018, the mandatory boating safety education law goes into effect, and will be phased in by age. If you operate any type of motorized vessel on California waterways (including powered sailboats/paddlecraft), you will be required to pass an approved boating safety examination and carry a lifetime California Boater Card. The California Boater Card shows that its holder has successfully taken and passed a NASBLA/state-approved boater safety education examination. In 2018, the California Boater Card program will be phased-in by age for operators of motorized boats on state waterways.

Where can I apply for or get more information about the boater card?

Go to this website: http://www.californiaboatercard.com/

How is the boater card being phased in?

Each year a new age group will be added to those who are required to possess a valid card. By 2025, all persons who operate on California waters will be required to have one. 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

How much does it cost?

The lifetime card fee is $10. The lost card replacement fee is $5.

How is the card issued?

The card is issued by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW). DBW began issuing the California Boater Card on Dec. 1, 2017. Once DBW has received your application, proof of education and payment, you will receive a 90-day temporary boater card by email. You should receive your official boater card by mail within 60 days.

What are the exceptions to the new law?

According to California law the following persons are not required to have a boater card to operate a motorized vessel on California waterways:

  • A person operating a rental vessel.
  • A person operating a vessel while under the direct supervision of a person 18 years of age or older who is in possession of a California Boater Card.
  • A person who is a resident of a state other than California who is temporarily operating a vessel in California for less than 60 days and meets the boating requirements, if any, of his/her state.
  • A person who is a resident of a country other than the United States who is temporarily operating a vessel in California for less than 90 days and meets the boating requirements, if any, of his/her country.
  • A person operating a vessel in an organized regatta or vessel race, or water ski race.
  • A person who is in possession of a current commercial fishing license.
  • A person who is in possession of a valid marine operator license, for the waters upon which the licensee is operating, issued by the United States Coast Guard, or who is in possession of a valid certificate issued pursuant to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978, as amended.
  • A person who has successfully completed a boating course approved by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training Post.



Last updated: December 18, 2020

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P.O. Box 188
Whiskeytown , CA 96095

Phone:

530 242-3400

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