New California law mandates licenses for boat owners, but not renters |

New California law mandates licenses for boat owners, but not renters

Claire Cudahy
California instituted new boating safety requirements this year.
Claire Cudahy / Tahoe Daily Tribune

In January new regulations went into place in California requiring boaters to get licenses, but a notable group is exempt from the law — renters.

The California Boater Card program requires boat operators to take a state-approved boating safety course, either online or in a classroom, and pass a test in order to secure a lifetime license.

The program is being phased in by age groups. As of Jan. 1, 2018, people 20 years old or younger must possess a card. The phase-in schedule continues in five-year increments until 2025 when all boaters must have a card regardless of age.

While boat owners and people driving a friend or family member’s boat must have a license, the law does not require boat renters to take the course prior to hitting the waters.

California state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, penned the law. He said he left out renters from the bill because, after reviewing practices from boat rental companies, he felt they provided enough education prior to letting customers out on the water. Testing at a rental site also was not a realistic proposition, he said.

In 2016, more than 80 percent of the boating accidents in the U.S. occurred on boats that were not rented, according to data from the U.S. Coast Guard.

That same year, California was second only to Florida for the most boating accidents in the country. Given the vast coastline in these two states, however, it’s not surprising.

The exclusion of boat renters from license requirements is not uncommon in other states.

In neighboring Nevada, a signed rental agreement meets the state’s requirement for a boating education course.

Otherwise people born after Jan. 1, 1983 are required to complete a course, but only to operate vessels on bodies of water that are bordered by more than one state, like Lake Tahoe and Lake Mead.

Residents of other states that are at least 18 and meet the requirements of their home states are exempt from this requirement.

Executive Petty Officer Josh Fennell of the U.S. Coast Guard in Tahoe City noted that generally the calls that he responds to on Lake Tahoe are from people who own boats, not renters.

“We get a wide range of calls. Everything from ‘we ran out of gas’ to ‘we are lost and we don’t know where we are,” said Fennell. “Every once in a while someone falls overboard, there is a boat collision, or the weather has gotten too rough.”

He’s just happy that under California’s new law more people will hopefully be better prepared before heading out on the lake.

“The hope is that people will be more educated and it will reduce accidents on the water,” said Fennell. “I do hope that people are more aware of the importance of wearing a life jacket and making sure that your boat has all the safety equipment on board.”

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