The Pleasure Craft Operator Card

Since September 15, 2009, Canadian law states that all boaters are required to obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card This means if you operate a boat for recreational use, you must carry proof of competency, regardless of your age or motor size.

Proof of competency comes in three forms:

        1. A Pleasure Craft Operator Card

        2. Successful completion of a Canadian boating safety course, prior to April 1, 1999.

        3. completed Rental Safety Checklist

For proof of competency, the Operator Card states you have learned the required knowledge to be safe on the water. A $250 fine will be given to those caught operating a vessel without the Operator Card. The fine applies to all boat operators regardless of their age or engine size. Keep in mind you can only obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card by passing an approved Transport Canada boating license exam. The exam consists of 36 multiple choice questions, and a passing grade is 75%.

If you have completed a Canadian boating safety course before April 1, 1999, you are exempted from having to get an Operator Card. However, in order for the course to count as proof of competency, you must have the original papers on the boat at all times. It is important to note that photocopies of your boating course papers will not be accepted by authorities. These same rules apply to your Operator Card (you must have the original with you at all times).

The Pleasure Craft Operator Card, often referred to as a “boat license” or a “BOATsmart!® Card” is the best method to get legal on the water. A key point about the Operator Card is once you’ve got it, it’s good for life!


Is it a Boating License?

Although it is often referred to as one, the Operator Card is not actually a boating license. The term Boating License is often used to describe the Operator Card, but is an inaccurate expression. The Operator Card provides proof of competency, and cannot be revoked or taken away. Unlike the licensing procedures of an automobile, your Operator Card requires only one process; passing a Transport Canada accredited boating license exam. Your boating license also differs from your drivers license because it has no photo identification and it will not expire.  Once you have successfully passed your Boating License exam, you will receive your Operator Card and be certified for life. This means you will never have to renew, or retake the boating license exam again. If you happen to misplace or damage your boating license card, you do not need to retake your boat test. Rather, contact the provider with whom you wrote your boating license with, and have them send you a new card.


Who Needs a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

April 1, 1999 marked the introduction of the Pleasure Craft Operator Card. The Operator Card was implemented by Transport Canada through a 10 year phase-in period. After the 10 year phase-in, September 15, 2009 marked the final deadline for all boaters to obtain their Operator Card. That means anyone operating a motorized vessel for non-commercial use is required to obtain their boating license.  It is important to note there is no grandfather clause that exempts older or experienced boaters from needing to get an Operator Card. There are however, three different forms of competency that you may carry onboard your boat.

The first form of competency is to pass a certified boating license exam and get the Pleasure Craft Operator Card. The easiest way to get your Operator Card is through a provider like BOATsmart!® Canada. They offer a quick and simple process that allows boaters to study and get their Operator Card directly from their website. 

A second form of competency is to have successfully completed a boating safety course in Canada, prior to April 1, 1999. In order for your competency to be valid, you must carry the original papers with you on board your boat at all times. If you completed a course but have lost the original papers, you must track down the course provider to get another copy. If this is not possible, you may have to take the boating test and get an Operator Card. 

The third option for competency is to complete a rental-boat safety checklist. This form of competency can only be used when you rent a boat. Like an Operator Card, the safety checklist must be carried with the operator at all times.

No matter what form of competency a boater possesses, it is important for them to always carry it with them while operating a boat. Boaters can obtain their Operator Card as young as age eight. It is important to note that only the driver of the boat is required to have the Operator Card. Passengers do not require any form of competency, however, they still have responsibilities while on board a vessel.


Pleasure Craft Operator Card vs. Pleasure Craft License

A Pleasure Craft Operator Card and a Pleasure Craft License are two separate items; both unique in their own sense. A Pleasure Craft Operator Card (P.C.O.C) pertains to the operator of a pleasure craft. It is the standard form of competency issued after completing a boating license exam.

A Pleasure Craft License refers to an actual vessel and does not relate to the operator. A Pleasure Craft License is unique to each individual boat. They pertain to the registration numbers placed on the side of a vessel as mandated by the Small Vessel Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act. The Pleasure Craft License is most comparable to the license plate on an automobile, and is used to identify individual pleasure crafts.

All pleasure crafts under 15 gross tons and powered by a 10 hp motor or more must be licensed or registered. Even if you boat on a small land lock lake, these restrictions pertain to all boaters in Canada.

You can register your new or used powerboat by acquiring an Application for Vessel License. Your Pleasure Craft License is available by contacting Service Canada. For further information, visit

An Operator Card and a Pleasure Craft License represent two important aspects of boating. If you are stopped while on water, the law enforcement officer will be checking that you are equipped with both the Operator Card and Pleasure Craft License.  By ensuring you have both of these, you’re not only complying with the law, but you’re helping to ensure your safety on the water. Remember, you must always carry the original copy of both your Operator Card and your Pleasure Craft License.

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