California Boating Safety Requirements

California boating laws for life jackets

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs aka Life Jackets)

California boating laws for life jackets

California boating law requires that all boats 16 feet or more in length, except canoes and kayaks must carry one wearable life jacket (Type I, II, III or V) for each person on board and one throwable (Type IV) device in each boat. PFDs must be readily accessible.

Canoes and kayaks of any length and all other boats less than 16 feet in length must have all of the above except the throwable PFD (Type IV).

An inflatable Type V life jacket must be worn in order to be considered readily accessible. All wearers must follow the U.S. Coast Guard label for limited uses.

Personal watercraft operators, passengers and anyone being towed behind the vessel must wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III or V PFD, except inflatable.

All boaters and/or passengers 12 years of age and younger on a vessel that is 26 feet or less must be wearing a PFD while the vessel is underway.

Boating Age Requirements

California boating age requirements

In California, all boaters between 12 and 15 years of age require adult supervision (18 years of age or older) to operate any motor powered vessel greater than 15 horsepower (including Personal Watercraft). All boaters 16 years of age or older may operate any motor powered vessel greater than 15 horsepower without adult supervision.


  • Sailboats under 30 feet in length (when using the sails for propulsion)
  • Dinghy used between two moored vessels or between a moored vessel and the shoreline
California boating age requirements

Boating under the influence in California

Alcohol & Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Boating under the influence in California

No one shall operate a vessel or towed device (water skis, wake board, etc.) while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.

A boater with a blood alcohol content of .08% or more shall be presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. When the blood alcohol content level is between .05% but less than .08%, this information may be combined with other evidence to determine if the person was under the influence of alcohol while operating. A person convicted of intoxicated boat operation could receive up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.

"Zero Tolerance" prohibits anyone younger than 21 from consuming alcohol and operating a watercraft with any measurable alcohol level above .01%.

Penalties may include a fine of up to $250, and participation in an alcohol education or community service program.

California Boat Registration

Boat registration in California

The Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) is responsible for regulating the state boating laws in California.

All vessels may be registered at any California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Upon registration the DMV will issue the boat owner: registration stickers, a Certificate of Number as well as a Certificate of Ownership.

The following vessels do not require registration in California:

Boat registration in California
  • Vessels 8 feet or less in length propelled by sail (i.e. sailboards)
  • U.S. Coast Guard Documented Vessels
  • Vessels that are currently registered and kept in another state (after more than 90 days of use, California should be considered the state of principal use)
  • Vessels registered in another country
  • Manually propelled vessels (i.e. canoe, kayak)
  • Certain vessels owned by public agencies
  • Ship's lifeboats used solely for lifesaving purposes

Note: Boat owners must keep the title of their boat in a safe place.

Note: On the reverse of the vessel title there is an application for the transfer of ownership.

Boat registration and ownership in California

Certificate of Number

Boat registration and ownership in California

Boat owners must have at least a temporary Certificate of Number before they can operate in state waters. Upon receipt, the permanent Certificate of Number must be signed and carried on-board at all times. All registration fees are paid to the DMV. Vessels are registered for 2 years. After the 2 year period the vessel must be registered again.

Note: The California Department of Motor Vehicles must be notified within 15 days if the boater changes residences.

Cost to Register a Boat in California

Original Application (except for nonresidents) Submitted in an even-numbered year


Original Application (except for nonresidents) Submitted in an odd-numbered year


Nonresident Application - Fees due in an even-numbered year


Nonresident Application - Fees due in an odd-numbered year




Renewal (biennially)






Historical Vessel Plaque


Successful registration results in a certificate of number, physical boat numbers and a decal. Your registration MUST be kept on board the vessel at all times. (It is advisable to keep the registration in a dry-bag on board.)

California boat number registration and decal placement

Boat numbers must:

  • Be affixed on both sides of the bow
  • Be block letters, three inches high and contrasting with the color of your boat
  • Have spaces or hyphens between numerals and letters

For example: CF 1234 BX or CF-1234-BX. This is a federal and state requirement. Lack of the correct documentation can result in delays and fines.

Make sure all boats are properly marked and documented. It's important to keep your papers stored safely – be particularly aware of this when transferring ownership of your vessel.

California mussel fee paid sticker

Mussel Fee Paid Sticker

California mussel fee paid sticker

Non-native aquatic species, plants, fish and animals are invading California's waters. These pests can increase dramatically under the right conditions, displacing native species, clogging waterways, and impacting navigation and recreation.

Once introduced, they are nearly impossible to eliminate. Hydrilla, Egeria Densa, water hyacinth, quagga and zebra mussels are nuisance species that can be accidentally transported by recreational boaters when caught in propellers, intakes or attached to hulls. Controlling Water Hyacinth and Egeria Densa is a multi-million dollar problem.

You can help prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species.

  • Inspect all exposed surfaces of your boat and remove aquatic plants or animals before you leave any body of water. Small mussels feel like sandpaper to the touch.
  • Avoid chopping vegetation with your boat's propeller.
  • Flush raw-water cooling systems and clean sea strainers before moving your boat from one body of water to another.
  • Empty and dry any buckets and remove any plant fragments from bait wells, fishing gear, trailers, dive gear or props. Dispose of such fragments and/or bait into a garbage receptacle on land.
  • Drain all water from your motor and bilge and dry all areas. Clean and dry all live-wells.
  • Drain and dry the lower outboard unit.
  • Wash your boat before putting it into a new body of water. Be sure to thoroughly wash the hull.
  • There are specific drying times that need to be calculated by each boater. Please refer to to calculate.

Be sure to report new infestations of non-native aquatic species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (209) 946-6400.

Visit for more information on quagga and zebra mussels or call (916) 327-1851.

California Boater Card Regulations and Laws

The California Boater Education Card is proof that a boater has taken and passed an approved boater education course.

The California Department of Boating & Waterways offers a Boater Education Card to prove that you are a safe boater. This can have benefits such as savings on marine insurance.

Many boating fatalities occur because boaters aren't educated about boating safety. California Department of Boating & Waterways believes that an educated boater is a safer boater.

Q. Where can I take my safe boating exam and get my Boater Education Card?

A. You can take your safe boating exam directly on the Internet at®. Once you pass the exam your boater education card is mailed to your home. In the meantime, you can print off a Certificate of Completion that can be used until your permanent boater education card arrives.

Q. Where can I get the boater safety education course material?

A. All the required safe boating training material to get your boater education card is available at®. Simply visit our California Safe Boating Course section to gain access to the training material. The California Safe Boating Course is accredited by the California Department of Boating & Waterways.

Q. Where can I get more information about California boating regulations and the California boater education card?

A. Answers to most of your questions about the California Boater Education Card can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions page. You may also visit The California Department of Boating & Waterways. for additional information, or you can contact us and we will be glad to answer any of your questions.

Q. Did you know?

A. Many boaters incorrectly use the term "California Boating License" when referring to their Boater Education Card. The Boater Education Card is NOT a boating license. Unlike a driver's license, your Boater Education Certificate cannot be revoked and is good for life.

California Boating Safety

An Educated Boater is a Safer Boater. By taking a boating safety course, you help ensure our waterways are the safest they can be. Not to mention, completing a course may reduce your boat insurance 10-15%!

Personal Watercraft Laws & Regulations

California jet ski pwc laws

Do not underestimate personal watercraft (often called jet skis) – they are very powerful for their small size and demand the same respect as any boat.

In fact, PWC operation must adhere to the same rules and regulations as any other powerboat – including registration with the state and a B-1 class fire extinguisher aboard.

PWC have some additional requirements:

California jet ski pwc laws
  • The operator as well as all passengers of a PWC must be wearing a PFD.
  • When towing someone on a tube or on water skis there must be capacity on the PWC to accommodate the operator, the observer, and the person being towed.
  • PWC being operated in California waters are required to have a kill switch with lanyard or a self-circling device. Please note that the lanyard must be fastened to the operator, his clothing or his PFD.
  • Please consult your local marinas or municipalities for the zones of restricted operation.
  • Wake jumping cannot be done within 100 ft of another vessel's stern.
  • Operate at slow-no-wake speed, maximum 5 mph limit when:
    • Within 200ft of a surfer, diving flag, bank or wading angler, dock, swim float, boat launch, ramp, pier, marina, floating home, moorage area, or boathouse
    • Within 100ft of a swimmer
    • Within 200ft of shoreline on all lakes, reservoirs, and bays with bathers

Hours of Operation: PWC may only be operated from sunrise to sunset.

Age Requirements: PWC operators in California must be at least sixteen years old in order to operate without adult supervision.