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Boating LicenceAs of September 15, 2009 all operators of powered vessels in Canada will require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, which can be obtained after successfully passing a Transport Canada accredited boating license exam.

The Pleasure Craft Operator Card, commonly known as a boating license or boat card, fulfills the requirement for “proof of competency” indicating you have obtained the knowledge you need to boat safely. The operator card can only be obtained after successfully passing a recognized boating license exam.

Pleasure Craft Operators Card

Proof of competency can actually take three forms:

  • Proof of a recognized safe boating course completed prior to April 1, 1999
  • Rental Boat Safety Checklist
  • Pleasure Craft Operator Card after successful completion of the boating license exam

The boating license Regulations apply to non-residents 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 or chartered boats).

The boating license regulations do not apply to non-residents who operate their pleasure craft (licensed in a country other than Canada) in Canadian waters for less than 45 consecutive days. Please note that a proof of residence will be required on board at all times.

If you require more information on how Canadian requirements apply to non-residents visit the Requirements for Foreign Recreational Boaters In Canadian Waters.

A complete overview of boating exam regulations and proof of competency requirements can be found through Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety website.

It is estimated that more than 8 million Canadians will have to obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, commonly known as a boat license, in order to prove their competency and be ready for the start of boating season in 2010.

Many boaters have questions about what types of boats and engines are covered by the federal law. Contrary to some misinformation, you do require a Pleasure Craft Operator Card if you operate a sailboat that is fitted with an auxiliary engine – even if its not engaged. You also need a boating license if operating a small boat with an electric trolling motor. There are no exemptions.

The 36 questions multiple choice boating licence exam can be challenged online, in-person or as part of a classroom course. A passing grade of 75% is required and the boating license exam can only be written once every 24 hours. Many organizations offer the boating license exam on a “pay only when you pass” basis and the online boater exam typically includes unlimited retries. The online boating license exam can also be completed by non-residents in their home country prior to operating a boat in Canada.


Boaters are encouraged to take an approved boating safety course prior to challenging the boating license exam, although taking a boating course isn’t required by law. Various organizations offer training and preparation for the boating license exam. A complete list of providers can be found at www.boatingsafety.gc.ca and the boating license can be taken online or in-person with BOATsmart! Canada. The boating license exam covers a variety of boating safety topics including navigation, marker buoys, right-of-way rules and emergency preparedness. Online study guides and sample boating license exams are available to assist less experienced boaters. Canadian families purchasing their first boat can find information on choosing the right boat at www.discoverboating.ca and boating safety equipment requirements at www.BoatSmartExam.com.

Boaters should note that a Pleasure Craft Operator Card can only be issued after the successful completion of a Transport Canada Accredited boating license exam. Canadians should be wary of any organization or person who offers certification without requiring an approved boatin license exam to be completed.

Once obtained the Pleasure Craft Operator Card is good for life. Those caught without the card after the September 15, 2009 deadline face a $250 fine regardless of size of boat, engine horsepower or age.

Cameron Taylor
BOATsmart! Canada
Canada's National Boating Educator

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