Proof of competency for recreational boaters

Until 1999, anyone could operate a boat, regardless of boating safety knowledge, experience, or training. A lot has changed to make our waterways safer since then. One important reason for fewer recreational boating deaths and injuries is the requirement that boat operators demonstrate their boating safety knowledge by obtaining proof of competency.

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Proof of competency

In Canada, if you operate a boat with a motor and use it for recreation, you need proof of competency —something that shows you have a basic understanding of how to operate your boat safely and know what to do in an emergency. Proof of competency is required with all motor types (including electric trolling motors) and even when the motor is not in use (such as when sailing).

A variety of documents may serve as proof of competency:

Proof of competency is not required in the following situations:

  • the boat is being operated in the waters of Nunavut or the Northwest Territories
  • the boat is being used for daily living or subsistence activities (such as hunting and fishing practised by many Aboriginal Peoples)
  • a visitor to Canada is operating the boat he or she brought into Canada for less than 45 consecutive days
For complete information, see the Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations and visit our Operator Card (PCOC) – FAQ page.

Obtaining a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC)

Boaters who do not already have one of the other documents accepted as proof of competency (see above list) must obtain a PCOC. You do this by passing a boating safety test; usually the test is taken at the end of a boating safety course.

All boating safety courses and tests leading to the issuance of a PCOC are delivered by course providers accredited by Transport Canada. You can view the list of accredited course providers online or call the Boating Safety Infoline at 1-800-267-6687 to request that the list be mailed to you.

Note: All fees for course, test, and card services are established by the course providers. Services and fees vary among course providers. The Government of Canada does not collect or receive any fees for boating safety courses, tests, or cards.

Boating safety course

The best way to prepare for and pass the boating safety test is by taking a boating safety course from an accredited course provider. Courses are available in the classroom and online. By taking a boating safety course, you will learn about:

  • your responsibilities as a boat operator
  • how to get your boat, your guests, and yourself prepared before leaving the dock
  • the importance of making sure all the right boating safety equipment is on board and in good working order
  • how to prevent unsafe situations once underway
  • how to safely share waterways with others, including larger and less manoeuvrable commercial vessels
  • what to do in the event of an emergency

Whether you learn best in the classroom-style setting with lots of student-instructor interaction, or prefer to learn at your own pace in an online environment, the information acquired in a boating safety course will help keep you and your guests safe when you are out on the water.

Replacing your Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC)

A PCOC is issued to a person for life. If the PCOC is lost or destroyed, the individual can request a replacement from the accredited course provider that issued the card. Course providers charge a fee for this service.

If the course provider is unknown or no longer exists, the person should contact the Transport Canada Boating Safety Infoline at 1-800-267-6687 or The agent will check the individual’s name against a national database of PCOC holders and then provide instructions on how to get a new card.

Horsepower restrictions for youth

In addition to the requirement to carry a document serving as proof of competency, boat operators under the age of 16 must also comply with other requirements. Restrictions are imposed on the horsepower (hp) (or kilowatt (kW)) capacity of the motor of the boat they wish to operate.

  • Youth under the age of 12, with no direct supervision, may only operate a boat with a motor of up to 10 hp /7.5 kW.
  • Youth aged 12–15, with no direct supervision, may only operate a boat with a motor of up to 40 hp/30 kW.
  • Youth under the age of 16, regardless of supervision, may not operate a personal watercraft (PWC).

These restrictions do not apply in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

Note: “Direct supervision” means a person 16 years of age or older is in the boat and directly supervising the operator.

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