The Pleasure Craft Operator Card
Now that summer is finally here, hundreds of thousands of Canadians will be taking
to the water to fish, water ski, cruise or ride personal watercraft. And who can
blame them? After enduring a long, cold winter it's almost a prerequisite of being
Canadian to get out on a lake or river and partake in some type of water activity.
The sun and spray seem to have a way of rejuvenating us after several long months
of hibernation and many of us can't wait to hop in our watercraft and start having
fun. But before we take off from the dock, we need to be sure we've got a
Pleasure Craft Operator card.
In 1999 the Canadian government enacted legislation that required all operators
of motorized watercraft to prove competency in boat operation by taking and passing
a safety course. The legislation was phased in, in three stages, over a 10-year
Get the Pleasure Craft Operator Card
If you were born after April 1, 1983 you need the operator's card now.
If you operate a powered vessel under 4 meters long, including personal watercraft,
you need the operator's card now.
All other watercraft operators will need the operator's card by September 15, 2009
The first stage required that anyone born after April 1, 1983, would need to pass
a course and obtain their Pleasure Craft Operator card by September 15, 1999 before
they could operate a motorized watercraft. The second phase dictated that anyone
operating a motorized vessel under 4 meters in length (roughly 13-feet), including
personal watercraft, would have to have the card by September 15, 2002. The final
phase of the program requires all operators, regardless of age or the size of boat,
to have a card by September 15, 2009.
If you took a safety course prior to April 1, 1999, the certificate you obtained
is a valid proof of operator competency, however, the certificate must clearly show
that the course was taken in Canada before April 1, 1999.
This means that if you were 22-years old or under, as of April 1, 2005, you need
a card if you plan to operate any type of powered vessel this year. If you operate
a small, powered boat - anything under 4-meters in length - you need a card right
now, regardless of your age. If you fall outside of these two categories of boater,
you will need to have a Pleasure Craft Operator card no later than September, 2009.
The only exception to the operator card requirement is if you are renting a motorized
vessel. In this case you must complete a rental boat safety checklist administered
by the person renting the watercraft. The safety checklist will be considered your
proof of competency and will be valid for the duration of the rental period only.
You will need to go through this procedure every time you rent a boat. Of course
if you have an operator’s card you won’t be required to complete a safety
checklist when you rent a powerboat or PWC.
It’s worth noting that any watercraft that is fitted with a motor is considered
to be a motorized vessel and you need an operator’s card if you plan to be
on the water in one. This includes canoes with electric trolling motors or small
gasoline engines, sailboats that have auxiliary engines (whether the engine is in
use or not), personal watercraft, boats powered solely by electric motors and others.
In short, if it floats and has a motor on it, you need a card in order to legally
You can get a Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card by studying and
taking the test on-line.
The costs are similar regardless of how you plan to study although individual course
providers are free to set their own rates. You may save a few dollars by shopping
around, but cheaper isn’t always better. More on that later. Once you have
passed the competency test, your Pleasure Craft Operator Card is good for life.
On-line testing is becoming a very
popular way to get your operator’s card. Some of the on-line course providers
will have study materials available
on their websites while others only have the test and leave it to the student to
locate the appropriate study materials.
When choosing a course provider, remember that they must be approved by Transport
Canada in order to legally administer the competency training and testing. A list
of approved course providers is available on Transport Canada’s Office of
Safety website located at www.tc.gc.ca.
Along with accreditation, you’ll want to ensure that your course provider
is a legitimate business that will be around for years to come. This is especially
important in the case that your card is ever lost or destroyed, since only the original
issuing course provider can issue a replacement
card. If your original card issuer goes out of business and you need your
card replaced, you will need to pay for and pass the test again with another course
When you are looking for a course provider it is in your best interests to choose
one that has been around since the inception of the program and who will be around
in the future. Operations that don’t have a proper business structure including
buildings, staff etc. should be viewed with suspicion. This is one time when cheaper
most certainly isn’t better.
A boater competency course covers a wide range of basic safety and skills issues
including the minimum safety equipment requirements for your boat, understanding
the Canadian Buoy system, sharing the waterways with other users, a review of all
applicable regulations and how to respond in an emergency situation. The course
is not difficult and most people who study the materials are able to pass on their
If you are a boater and haven’t yet obtained your Pleasure Craft Operator’s
Card, you might want to contact a course provider and take the test sooner rather
than later, even if you don’t legally need it until 2009. According to an
industry spokesperson, a reform is in the works that will see the competency test
increase to 50 questions from the current 36 sometime in late 2006. This will obviously
make the test tougher to pass, and it will also undoubtedly increase the costs associated
with getting a card.
Another reason for getting tested early is that there are still over 8 million boaters
in Canada who have not yet obtained their card. As the deadline for the new testing
requirements draws closer there will be more people rushing to get into courses,
which could create a backlog. As the September 2009 date when every boater must
have a card approaches, course providers expect another surge in course applicants,
again causing potential delays in getting people tested and carded.
If you operate a powered vessel on Canadian waters, you are required to operate
it safely and competently, and the only way to prove competence is by passing a
safety course from an approved course provider. With the season upon us, there’s
no better time than right now to sign up for a course, get tested and get your card.