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What is legally required to operate a boat in California? Ask the lawyer

Q: The “joke” I keep hearing is that the two happiest days for a boat owner are the day the boat is bought, and the day the boat is sold. I am not believing that, and am about to buy a nice sized motor boat. We have two kids. First question: What are the basics for someone to legally operate a boat here?

M.B., Marina Del Rey

Ron Sokol

A: In order to legally operate a vessel powered by a motor of 15 horse power or more, including personal watercraft, California requires a person to be at least 16 years of age and in possession of a California boater card. There are exceptions for people 12 to 15 years of age, if they are supervised on board by someone who is at least 18 years of age and has a California boater card. Also, there is no age restriction to operate a sailboat under 30 feet long (with wind as the main source of propulsion), or a dinghy used between a moored vessel and the shore, or between two moored vessels.

The California Division of Boating and Waterways sets forth online, in detail, the ABCs of California boating. The information there includes required equipment, waterway markings, and emergency and accident procedures.  Go to (or type “California Division of Boating and Waterways, ABCs” in your web browser) for more information.

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