New California Vessel Operator Card Requirements

As we head into Memorial Day weekend and kick off the summer season, many Californians head to local lakes, bays, and other waterways for fun, fishing, and relaxation. Beginning in 2018, however, Californians heading out on the water will need to meet new education requirements in order to lawfully operate an engine powered vessel. California Senate Bill 941(link is external) was signed into law in September 2014, and went into effect in January of 2015. The new boater education requirements included in SB941 will be phased in over several years beginning in January of 2018 and continuing through January 1, 2025.  SB941 requires individuals operating motorized vessels on California waterways to have a California Vessel Operator Card (CVOC), which will be issued by the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways to persons who provide proof that they took and passed a vessel operator examination. Beginning on January 1, 2018 for persons 20 years of age or younger must obtain a CVOC to operate a motorized vessel on California Waters. On January 1, 2019 this same requirement goes into effect for persons 25 years or younger. SB941 will continue to require ever larger groups of persons to obtain CVOCs each year until January 1, 2025 when all vessel operators must obtain a CVOC regardless of age. 

 The new law exempts certain groups of people from the CVOC requirement, including, but not limited to, certain out of state residents, persons operating a rental vessel, commercially licensed fishermen, and persons operating a vessel while under the direct supervision of a CVOC holder who is at least 18 years old. 

 While the Division of Boating and Waterways has not specified whether it will accept proof of passing a boater education course taken prior to 2018, the Division encourages boaters to take such safety courses regardless of whether such courses will eventually be accepted for CVOC purposes. 
Violation of the CVOC requirement is an infraction accompanied by fees that increase after each subsequent offense.