Get your card today


Canada Boating Regulations and Boat License Laws

If you operate a pleasure boat in Canada, you are responsible for obeying Canadian boating laws and regulations.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), provincial and municipal police forces and other local authorities will enforce these laws across Canada, although there may be exceptions if you are boating in the Northwest Territories or Nunavut.

Even if you are operating a small vessel or sailboat, you are not an adult, or you are a visitor or boating in a private location, Canada boating regulations still apply.

Remember, these rules are here to keep you safe and happy on the water!

Safety Equipment

When operating a pleasure craft in Canada, you are responsible for keeping all necessary safety equipment on board at all times. This applies even if the boat is rented, chartered or borrowed.

Pleasure craft include power boats, sail boats, personal watercraft, airboats, air cushion vehicles (hovercraft) and wing in ground effect vessels that are used only for recreation. The rules also apply when using kiteboards. Operating a remote-controlled vessel and a propeller-driven surfboard is against the law in Canada.

Your safety boating equipment must be:

  • In good working order
  • Easy to access in case of an emergency
  • Maintained and/or replaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions

The bare minimum safety equipment requirements for any vessel are:

  • One lifejacket or PFD (Personal Flotation Device) for each person on board, including children, to be worn at all times. Remember to test each PFD first, and make sure it fits properly.
  • One buoyant heaving line at least 15 m (49’3”) long
  • One bailer or one manual bilge pump or equivalent bilge-pumping arrangements

Note: The specific type of equipment you need depends on the size of the boat you are operating (see page 16). Rules may also vary in competition settings.

Age-horsepower restrictions

Canada boating laws stipulate that you must be a certain age to operate a pleasure craft fitted with a motor with a certain amount of horsepower.

Under 12 years of age, and not directly supervised*
Can operate a vessel with no more than 10 hp (7.5 kW).

Between 12 years and under 16 years of age, and not directly supervised*
Can operate a vessel with no more than 40 hp (30kW).

Under 16 years of age
Not allowed to operate a Personal Watercraft (PWC).

16 years of age and over
No power restrictions.

*Directly supervised means: accompanied and directly supervised in the boat by a person 16 years of age or older.

Documentation and boat licenses

All boaters in Canada must carry proof of competency, personal identification and a Pleasure Craft License (for 10hp or more) on board with them at all times.

Pleasure Craft License

All vessels and PWCs less than 12 metres in length with a motor or motors adding up to 7.5 kW (10 hp) or more are required to have a Pleasure Craft License. You must also license dinghies or tenders.

With a Pleasure Craft License, your boat is assigned a unique license number that is free and valid for 10 years. It must be placed on the side of your boat. The Pleasure Craft Licensing System allows Search and Rescue personnel to access information about your boat 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the event of an emergency.

You can submit a request for a Pleasure Craft License online or by post.

If you have registered your boat, you do not need to license it. To learn more about registering your boat and the costs associated with it, visit Transport Canada’s Vessel Registration Office online.

Proof of Competency

According to the CSBC (Canadian Safe Boating Council), anyone operating a power-driven boat, even if they are not using the motor, must have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card or other accredited proof of competency which they carry on board at all times.

You can obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) by taking an accredited boating safety course and passing an online exam. Training and testing for this card is only available through Transport Canada accredited course providers like Drive A Boat Canada.

An accredited boating safety course will teach you basic boating safety and the rules governing Canadian waterways, and is recommended before taking the exam. You will need to receive a mark of at least 75% to pass the test.

If you received accreditation before 1999 or you are an Indigenous person, or your proof of competency is confirmed by a boat rental agency, you may be exempt from carrying a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Non-residents are exempt if they operate a pleasure craft for less than 45 days or if they operate a pleasure craft that is not licensed or registered in Canada.

For further questions about proof of competency, check out our FAQ page.

Criminal Code 

All elements of Canada’s Criminal Code apply when out on the water.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is an offence to operate a boat if you are impaired by drugs (including cannabis) or alcohol. According to the Canadian Red Cross, alcohol consumption is linked with more than 40% of all boating deaths in Canada.

If you have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) over 80mg or .08%., you are deemed above the legal federal limit. If you have 2-5 nanograms (ng) of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per ml of blood or 50 mgs of alcohol per 100 ml of blood and 2.5 ng of THC per ml of blood, it is illegal to operate a boat. You can face charges resulting in jail time, heavy fines and a revoked boating license.

Boat passengers may legally consume alcohol within accepted limits only if the boat:

  • Is anchored or secured alongside a dock
  • Has permanent cooking and sleeping facilities
  • Has a permanent toilet

Operate your boat legally in Canada 

For more information about obtaining your Pleasure Craft Operator Card and operating a boat legally in Canada, feel free to contact Drive A Boat Canada.