Do you Need a Licence to Drive a Boat in Canada?

By Jessica King

Aug 31, 2022

Surrounded by three oceans, Canada is a land filled with fresh and ocean waters.  The scenery is impressive, and the waters are inviting.  Boating is a very popular pastime in Canada.

Fun Facts:
There are an estimated 8.6 million recreational boats in Canada
12.4 million adult Canadians go boating every year (that’s about 1/3 of the population)

Proof of Competency

Before you head out onto the waters, you must have a Proof of Competency

Several documents fulfil this requirement:
A Pleasure Craft Operator Card 
Proof that you passed a boating safety in Canada before April 1, 1999
A certificate approved by the Department of Transport.  Click HERE for a list of certificates.
A completed safety checklist for a rented boat – good only while the boat is rented

While some people refer to the Pleasure Craft Operator Card as a Canadian boating license, it’s not technically a licence but proof that you have the education required to operate a pleasure craft safely.

Who Can Operate a Boat?

You must be at least 16 years of age to operate a pleasure craft without horsepower limits.
Persons under 12 years of age who are not directly supervised by a person 16 years of age or older may only operate a pleasure craft propelled by a motor of no more than ten hp (7.5 kW).
Persons at least 12 years of age but under 16 years of age who are not directly supervised by a person 16 years of age or older may only operate a pleasure craft propelled by a motor of no more than 40 hp (30 kW).

You must be 16 years of age or older to operate a personal watercraft (PWC) without supervision.

The above age restrictions do not apply in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

What if I travel to another Province?

Your Pleasure Craft Operator card is accepted as proof of competency in all provinces, territories, and states that require mandatory boater education.  

If you are from the United States, you may use your boating card issued by a NASBLA state-approved course as your proof of competency.  You must always carry proof of residency, such as a passport, on your boat.

Proof of competency for non-residents is not required for the first 44 days you are on Canadian waters.

Pleasure Craft Licence

While people need a PCOC, an actual Pleasure Craft Licence is a document issued by Transport Canada.  It has a unique license number assigned to your particular vessel and is used by search and rescue personnel to access important information in the event of an emergency.

A Pleasure Craft Licence is required for all vessels EXCEPT:
A pleasure craft using a motor with less than ten horsepower (75 kW)
A pleasure craft that has a vessel registration
A pleasure craft purchased less than 90 days ago (you must carry documents with your name, address, and purchase date.

You can get a licence on the Transport Canada website or by mail.  Get more information HERE.

Penalties for Boating without a PCOC

Operators who are found boating without their Pleasure Craft Operator Card can face fines between $250 and $10,000.  Saskatchewan and Alberta have higher fines.

Boating laws are enforced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), provincial and municipal police forces, and other local authorities.

If they ask to see your PCOC, have it handy.

How Can I Get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card?

Head on over to  Getting a PCOC is as easy as 1-2-3.  

  1. Take an online boating course
  2. Pass a multiple-choice test with a 75% grade
  3. Print your temporary card (a permanent card will be sent in the mail)