Basic Boating Safety Course

1&2 Introduction
Educational Objectives
3 The Boat
Boat Types
Measuring Length
Hull designs
Types of hulls
Carbon Monoxide
Capacity Plate
Engine Systems

Review Quiz - 3
4 Legal Requirements
Who May Operate

Registration and Numbering

Hull ID Number
Required Equipment
Personal Flotation Devices
Navigation Lights
Fire Extinguishers
Backfire Flame Arrestor
Sound Producing Device
Visual Distress Signals
Pollution Regulations
No Discharge Zones
Aquatic Nuisance Species
Recommended Equipment

Review Quiz- 4
5 Preparation
Vessel Check List

Environmental Conditions
Tide and Current
Local Hazards
Float Plan
Preventive Maintenance

Review Quiz-5
6 Operations
Operator responsibility
Homeland Security
Navigation Rules
Proper Lookout
Sound Signals
Rules of the Road
Meeting & Crossing
Commercial Vessels
Restricted Visibility
Aids to Navigation
Review Quiz-6
7 Getting Underway
Line Handling
Maneuvering Underway

Water Sports
Hunting and Fishing

Diving and Snorkling
Paddle Sports
Skiing and Towing
Personal Watercraft
Review Quiz-7
8 Accidents
Fatal Vs Non-fatal
Accident Reports
Crew Overboard
Assistance from Shore
Fires on Board
First Aid
Rendering Assistance
Running Aground
Review Quiz-8
9 Special Items
Vessel Repairs
Review Quiz-9
State Requirements
Final Exam

Chapter X - State Specific Information

It is important to know the boating regulations in the state in which you boat. If you boat in more than one state, or plan to visit another state, use this page to find the boating laws in different states that are in addition to the federal regulations covered in the Basic Boating Safety Course.

ca is chosen

State Information for ca

This course is approved by the State of California, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and recognized by the U.S. Coast Guard. Successful completion of this course may entitle you to a discount on your marine insurance.

The cost for the final exam and documentation of your successful completion is $24.95. You will be able to print a temporary certificate once you successfully complete the final exam. Your certificate and ID card will be mailed to you.

California Boat Registration

In California, all undocumented motorboats, as well as all sailboats more than eight feet in length, if used mostly on California waters must be registered and properly display the state-issued number.

Registration can be obtained at any Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. After giving the information and paying the required fees, the boat owner will be issued a Certificate of Number, a Certificate of Ownership, and a pair of registration stickers.

To register a boat with the State, you must possess and show a HIN.

If you own a boat that's registered in another state and it is used mainly in California, you may keep it in California for 90 days without having to register it at a California DMV office. After 90 days, though, your boat must be registered with the state. You then have 30 days to get it done.

Boat registration must be renewed every two years. When you receive the new decals, remove the old ones and apply new decals as directed.

Your registration certificate is required to be aboard your boat when it is under way. You will receive a citation if you are stopped by a law enforcement officer and do not have the current registration certificate with you.

Personal watercraft are boats and are subject to the same registration and equipment laws as similar-sized traditional boats. Therefore, a personal watercraft must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

  • Display of numbers and stickers must follow these rules:
    The registration numbers must be applied left to right on the forward half of the vessel in block letters at least 3 inches high and of a contrasting color - light letters on a dark background, or dark letters on a light background.
  • The state registration sticker should be placed 3 inches aft of the numbers.
  • Letters are separated from the numbers with hyphens or spaces equal to the width of the numbers (other than the number 1) or equal to the width of the letters (other than the letter "I").

Californians can document their boats with the U.S. Coast Guard. Larger boats meeting Coast Guard guidelines can be given a documentation number by the U.S. Coast Guard. Documentation is a form of national registration and is useful for boats taken into international waters or other countries.

Documented vessels must have their name and hailing port printed on the stern, above the waterline. In California, a documented vessel need not be registered by the state. For more information about this process, contact the U.S. Coast Guard.

California PFD Requirements

Children under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket when aboard an underway vessel 26 ft. in length or less. Under state law the operator may be fined up to $250.00 for violation of this requirement. The law does not apply to:

  • the operator of a sailboat on which every child under age 13 is restrained by a harness tethered to the sailboat, OR
  • the operator of a vessel on which every child under age 13 is in an enclosed cabin.

Every person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) and any person being towed behind a vessel must wear a Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD.

Exceptions: the law does not apply to:

  • Performers engaged in professional exhibitions, official regattas, marine parades, or tournaments.
  • Any person engaged in slalom skiing on a marked course, or barefoot, jump, or trick water skiing, may instead wear a wetsuit designed for the activity and labeled by the manufacturer as a water ski wetsuit.
  • A Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket must still be carried on board for each skier choosing to wear a wetsuit.
  • Inflatable personal flotation devices are not approved for use while water skiing.

California - Muffling Systems

You should never change your muffler or exhaust system because it may increase the noise level or create a dangerous exhaust leak. To avoid breaking state and local noise laws and as a courtesy to those around you, make sure your boat is not too loud.

California Boating Law prohibits operation of any motorboat in or upon the inland waters of the state with excessive noise levels. Excessive noise levels measured at a distance of 50 feet from the motorboat are described as exceeding:

  • 86 dbA for engines manufactured before January 1, 1976.
  • 84 dbA for engines manufactured on or after January 1, 1976, and before January 1, 1978.
  • 82 dbA for engines manufactured on or after January 1, 1978.

Recommended Equipment

Anchor, bailing device, boat hook, bucket, compass, flashlight, first aid kit, local charts, mooring lines, oars, spare parts, tools.

California Environmental Concerns

State and federal laws are designed to keep waterways cleaner and pollution free. These laws apply to all boats, no matter what size.

Although you'll find legal zones for discharging garbage, responsible boaters will not dump any garbage or waste into the water.

The U.S. Coast Guard can issue a citation up to $2,000 for the illegal discharge of waste. To avoid fines, use a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) or a holding tank while out on the boat, and pump the contents out at a shore side station.

A state or local peace officer who reasonably suspects that a vessel is discharging sewage in an area where the discharge is prohibited may board that vessel, if the owner or operator is aboard, for the purpose of inspecting the marine sanitation device for proper operation and placing a dye tablet in the holding tank.

Recreational boaters should call 1-800-OIL-SPILL if they witness or encounter an oil spill.

Aquatic Nuisances

Non-native aquatic species-plants, fish and animals-are invading California's coastal and inland 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 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 in California.

You can help prevent the introduction and spread of non-native species from one body of water to another:

  • Inspect your boat and remove aquatic plants or animals before you leave any body of water.
  • Flush raw-water cooling systems and clean sea strainers before moving your boat from one body of water to another.
  • Empty bait buckets and remove any plant fragments from bait wells, fishing gear, trailers, dive gear or props. Dispose on land into a garbage receptacle.
  • Drain water from your motor, live wells and bilge.
  • Wash your boat before putting it into a new body of water.
  • Report new infestations of non-native aquatic species to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

California Age Requirements and Mandatory Education Requirements

A person must be at least 16 to operate a motorboat of more than 15 HP unsupervised.

  • Exceptions: There is no age limit to operate a sailboat under 30 feet long (if using wind as the main source of propulsion), or
  • a dinghy used directly between a moored vessel and the shoreline or between two moored vessels.

A person 12 to 15 may operate a vessel if supervised on board by an adult (18 or older).

To operate a personal watercraft alone, the operator must be 16 years old or older.

A person 12-15 years old may operate a personal watercraft designed to carry at least two people, if someone 18 years old or older supervises him or her on board.

Any person convicted of any moving violation in the Harbors and Navigation Code, the Federal Rules of the Road and regulations adopted by the Department of Boating and Waterways while operating a vessel, shall be ordered by the court to complete and pass a boating safety course approved by the Department of Boating and Waterways.

Proof of completion and passage of the course must be submitted to the court within seven months of the time of the conviction.

Continue Your Boating Safety Education

Free boating safety classes are conducted by several organizations throughout the State of California. The largest of these organizations are the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons. A primary mission of both organizations is to promote safety afloat through education, and you need not be a member to take advantage of the basic instruction offered.

Introductory classes include basic information on aids to navigation, rules of the road, charts and compasses, boating regulations, marlinespike seamanship, motorboat handling and trailering practices. Some Auxiliary Flotillas also offer public courses on principles of sailing and coastal piloting.

A 24-hour, toll-free information service is available to California boaters. The service is designed to provide boaters with up-to-date information on boating classes offered throughout the state. This includes classes given by the U.S. Power Squadrons, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and other local organizations such as the American Red Cross.

Callers can also request information on required and recommended equipment, nautical rules of the road, local safety and facilities on both coastal and inland waters.

Aquatic centers across the State also offer boating safety classes. Courses, costs and schedules vary. A list of aquatic centers can be found on the Department's Website.

For additional information contact:
Department of Boating & Waterways

2000 Evergreen St Ste 100
Sacramento, CA 95815-3888
Phone: 916-263-4326
Fax: 916-263-0648

California Navigational Charts

Navigational charts are available for the California coast, bays, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (which includes the navigable portions of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers). The main purpose of these charts is to mark waterways for deep-draft vessels. These deep-water channels are usually heavy boat traffic areas, and should never be used for anchoring or recreation. Charts show shallow reefs, sandbars, and many other underwater hazards. Boaters can also measure distances they wish to travel by using the distance scale on the chart, or the degrees of latitude on either side of the chart. The rule is one minute of latitude equals one nautical mile, no matter where you are on the earth. You cannot use longitude as an accurate measure of distance, because the scale changes with different locations around the world.

Navigational charts are not available for many lakes and rivers because they are not useful in waterways with extreme changes in water elevation, changes in the shoreline, and areas that may have a lot of floating debris. In these areas, boaters traveling in unknown waters should be extremely cautious and try to learn about any hazards before boating.

In some charted waters, such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, recreational boaters must be aware of changing waterways, because navigable waters are affected by high volumes of rain, snow melt, and tides. In these areas, floating debris and underwater obstacles can create extreme hazards.

California Boating Regulations

California law says no one may operate a boat, water skis, an aquaplane or other vessel in a way that will be dangerous to people and property. Dangerous examples include:

  • Riding on the bow, gunwale or transom of a moving vessel when railings do not protect you.
  • Riding your vessel over the towline of another vessel or its skiers.
  • Steering your vessel between another towing vessel and the skiers or freight its towing.
  • Boating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Boating around swimmers.
  • Boating too fast in a crowded area, or in thick fog and heavy storms.
  • Speeding in restricted areas, "buzzing" or "wetting down" others, or skiing when or where you're not allowed.

Speed Limits

The maximum speed for motorboats within 100 feet of a bather (but not a water skier) and within 200 feet of a bathing beach, swimming float, diving platform or life line, passenger landing being used, or landing where boats are tied up is five miles per hour.

A safe speed should be maintained at all times so that:

  • action can be taken to avoid collision and
  • the boat can stop within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

In restricted visibility, motorboats should have the engines ready for immediate maneuvering. An operator should be prepared to stop the vessel within the space of half the distance of forward visibility.

In addition to state law, many counties, cities, and districts have special laws or ordinances that restrict activities in certain areas, prohibit certain acts at certain times, or establish additional requirements. These ordinances may regulate speed, set aside certain areas or hours for special purposes and prohibit acts that would be contrary to public interest. Boaters must comply with these local rules as well as with the state laws. Check with your local waterway operator for special laws or ordinances in your area.

False Search and Rescue Calls

Anyone who reports to a state or local agency that an emergency exists knowing that the report is false is guilty of a misdemeanor. An emergency includes any condition that results in, or could result in, the response of a public official in an authorized emergency vehicle, vessel or aircraft.

It is a felony for anyone to falsely report to any state or government agency that an emergency exists when the reporter knows, or should know, that the response to the report is likely to cause death or great bodily injury to someone as a result of the false report.

California Boating Enforcement

Every peace officer of the state, city, county or harbor district is empowered to enforce general boating laws, navigation regulations, and local restrictions. Peace officers have the authority to stop and board any vessel where the peace officer has probable cause to believe that a violation of state law or regulations or local ordinance exists. The use of a distinctive blue light is reserved for law enforcement vessels.

Any vessel approaching, overtaking, being approached, or being overtaken by a moving law enforcement vessel operating with a siren or an illuminated blue light, shall immediately slow to a speed sufficient to maintain steerage only, shall alter its course, and proceed at a reduced speed until beyond the area of operation of the law enforcement vessel. Every vessel underway and lawfully ordered to stop by a peace officer or harbor policeman shall stop immediately and permit the peace officer or harbor police vessel to come alongside.

Peace officers can order the operator of an unsafe vessel to shore. A vessel can be ordered to the nearest safe moorage if an unsafe condition is found that cannot be corrected on the spot and the officer believes continued operation of the vessel could be hazardous.

California Boating Under the Influence

State law specifies that:

  • No person shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. No person who is addicted to any drug shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device.
  • No person 21 years of age or older shall operate any vessel, water skis or similar device who has .08% or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood. A level of at least .05% but less than .08% may be used with other evidence in determining whether the person was under the influence of alcohol.
  • A person under 21 years of age or older who has been arrested for operating a mechanically propelled vessel "under the influence" may be requested to submit to a chemical test to determine blood-alcohol content. Refusal may result in increased penalties upon conviction. A person convicted of intoxicated boat operation could receive up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
  • No person under 21 years of age may operate a vessel, water skis or similar device who has .01% or more, by weight, of alcohol in their blood. Penalties may include a fine of up to $250, and participation in an alcohol education or community service program.
  • If you are convicted of operating a vessel while intoxicated, the Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend or revoke your vehicle driver's license. Depending upon the number and type of vehicle and/or vessel violations accumulated, this suspension/revocation could be for up to 5 years, and result in fines of up to $1,000.

California Boating Accident Reporting

Accident Assistance

A vessel operator involved in an accident must provide their name, address and vessel registration to the other involved parties. They must also provide assistance to any injured person as long as it does not endanger his or her vessel, crew, and passengers. Any person offering help in "good faith," without objection by anyone being helped, can't be held liable for the results of that help.

Accident Reporting

If you are in a boating accident, you must report it to the Department of Boating and Waterways or the local marine law enforcement authority. This may be the local harbor patrol, county sheriff or the U.S. Coast Guard.

If a person dies, disappears, or needs medical attention beyond First Aid, the incident must be reported immediately to the enforcement agency responsible for the waterway. Report the following information:

  • Date, time, and exact location of the accident.
  • Name of each person who disappeared, died or was injured, and the vessels involved.
  • Names and addresses of the owner, operator, and passengers of all boats involved.

A formal report must be filed with the Department of Boating and Waterways within 48 hours:

  • If someone has disappeared or died, or if a person has injuries that require medical treatment beyond more than first aid.
  • If the accident involves more than $500 damage, or the boat is a complete loss.

A vessel operator involved in an accident that causes damage to a moored boat or other property must notify the owner or person in charge of the property. If the operator can't locate the owner or person in charge of the property, the operator involved in the accident must leave a written notice in an easy-to-see place on the property damaged. This notice must give the name and address of the operator and of the owner of the vessel involved, and a statement describing what happened.

You can download an approved California Accident Report by going to

California Water Skiing

California law provides that any person being towed behind a vessel must wear a Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V life jacket.

  • Exceptions: the law does not apply to performers engaged in professional exhibitions, official regattas, marine parades, or tournaments. Any people engaged in slalom skiing on a marked course, or barefoot, jump or trick water skiing, may instead wear a wetsuit designed for the activity and labeled by the manufacturer as a water ski wetsuit. However, for each skier who elects to wear a wetsuit, a Type I, II, III, or V life jacket still must be carried on board.

Note: Inflatable personal flotation devices are not approved for use while water-skiing.

It is important that all the following rules concerning water skiing are followed:

  • At least three people must be present when water skiing-the boat operator, the observer, and the skier.
  • Water skiing is not allowed from sunset to sunrise. Local laws may also restrict skiing at certain times during the day and in certain areas.
  • Water skiers must know the correct hand signals.
  • Water ski boat operator must be at least 16 years old, if unsupervised. A person 12-15 years old may operate the ski boat, if supervised on board by someone 18 years old or older.
  • Water ski observer must be at least 12 years old.
  • The ski rope must be at least 75 feet long.

It is mandatory for the operator of a vessel involved in towing a skier to display, or cause to be displayed, a red or orange water-ski flag, to indicate:

  • A downed skier
  • A skier in the water preparing to ski
  • A ski line extended for the vessel
  • A ski in the water in the vicinity of the vessel

The flag must be no less than 12 inches on each side and be in the shape of a square or rectangle. The display of the ski flag does not in itself restrict the use of the water, but when operating in the area, boaters should exercise caution.

California PWC Operations

Operator Age - It is an infraction for a person under 16 years of age to operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower, including personal watercraft. Any person who permits a person under the age of 16 to do so is also guilty of an infraction. A person 12 - 15 may operate a motorboat of more than 15 horsepower if supervised by a person on board who is at least 18 years of age.

It's important to know that personal watercraft are subject to the same boat operating and navigation rules as other powerboats. Ignoring the rules does not excuse you from the law. To help make personal watercraft a safer form of boating, the law doesn't allow the operator of a personal watercraft to:

  • Use unsafe or reckless practices.
  • Jump another vessel's wake within 100 feet of the vessel creating the wake.
  • Operate at more than 5 mph within 200 feet of a beach, swimming float, diving platform or life line, passenger landing being used, or landing where boats are tied up.
  • Operate at more than 5 mph within 100 feet of swimmers.
  • Operate so fast and close to another vessel that they cause the other operator to swerve at the last minute to avoid a collision.
  • Operate the personal watercraft toward any person or vessel in the water, and turn sharply at close range in order to spray that vessel or person.
  • Operate the personal watercraft without a properly attached lanyard that runs from the cutoff or "kill" switch to the operator's body.
  • Operate the personal watercraft between sunset and sunrise.
  • Operating under the influence of intoxicants or narcotics.


For additional information contact:

Department of Boating & Waterways
2000 Evergreen St Ste 100
Sacramento, CA 95815-3888
Phone: 916-263-4326
Fax: 916-263-0648

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