Boat Licence, Registration and Insurance

What Documentation Do I Need to Operate a Boat?

One of the common questions we get from prospective boat and yacht owners is, “Do I need a licence to operate a boat?”

The short answer is no, not in the spirit of having a driver’s licence, but you do need to demonstrate to the federal government that you are competent to operate your vessel.

Let’s take a closer look at the documentation that is required to own and operate a yacht-sized boat in Canada.

Proof of Compete

To legally operate a powerboat or any motorized vessel in Canada, you must demonstrate to the federal government that you have a basic understanding of how to safely operate and navigate your vessel. This is called proof of competency.

A Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) is the most common way boaters show their proof of competency, but as per Transport Canada, there are other ways to show boating competency, such as:

  • proof of having passed a boating safety course in Canada before April 1, 1999;
  • a specified marine certificate; or
  • a completed rental boat safety checklist (good only for rental period).

A PCOC is not technically a licence, yet the boating community commonly refers to it as such. This card is good for life and can never be suspended or revoked.

You can get a PCOC relatively easy by taking an online boat safety course and exam provided by a Transport Canada-accredited company.

Note that there are no age restrictions to getting a PCOC – a person just needs to be old enough to pass the competency test.

Personal Identification

Along with your proof of competency, make sure you also bring your photo identification with you when you’re out boating. A PCOC or other form of safety certification doesn’t have your photo on it, so you will need a way to show law enforcement you are the same person as the person whose name is on your PCOC.

With your Pleasure Craft Operator Card and I.D. in tow, you can now operate a motorized vehicle in Canada. But you’ll likely need further documentation with you in order to get very far.

Pleasure Craft Licence

In Canada, a pleasure craft with a motor that exceeds 7.5 kW (10 hp) and is not registered must be licenced. No fee is required to get this licence. A pleasure craft licence is valid for 10 years and gives your vessel a unique licence number that you must stow on the boat as well as display on the bow. Because the numbers are used by Search and Rescue and other emergency personnel, the letters must be clearly visible and as far forward as possible on both sides of the bow.

Don’t forget to also licence any motorboats above 10 hp that you have with you in tow or on board, such as dinghies and lifeboats.

Getting a pleasure craft licence can be done online, or your yacht broker can help walk you through the process. If your boat does not need a pleasure craft licence, you can still choose to get one for safety reasons.

Transferring Pre-Owned Boat Licences

If you’re buying a used boat or yacht, you must transfer its licence number within 90 days. A yacht broker can also assist with this.

Proof of Ownership

If you plan to boat internationally, having proof of ownership on board is a must. A licenced vessel is not proof of ownership, so you’ll need to bring proof of ownership papers with you. Ask your yacht broker about what papers will work. You’ll also need proof of ownership for your dinghies or lifeboats. Not having the proper documents with you may result in trouble clearing customs.

Registering Your Boat or Yacht

In some cases, a boat or yacht can be registered instead of being licenced. Although you are no longer required to register a pleasure craft over 15 gross tons, you can choose to do so.

Why Register Your Yacht?

There are many benefits to registering your yacht that simple licensing doesn’t cover:

  • proof of ownership (legal title) for your boat
  • an easier time traveling internationally
  • the right to fly the Canadian flag;
  • an official name and serial number to be displayed on your bow. Your boat’s name will potentially be seen by people around the world, so choose wisely!
  • the right to use your boat as security for a marine mortgage.

For more information about licensing or registering your boats, visit us at Van Isle Marina, or contact the Transport Canada Vessel Registration Office.

Captain’s Licence

If you’ll be charging passengers for their time on board, you’re entering the territory of non-pleasure craft operation and could end up requiring a captain’s licence. The qualifications, training, and technical knowledge required to become a captain vary considerably, usually depending on the size of your vessel and the number of passengers you’d ultimately be responsible for.

See Transport Canada’s Marine Personnel Regulations or call a Transport Canada office for more information.

Boat Insurance

Unlike cars, you’re not legally obligated to have boater’s insurance in order to operate. Although boat insurance should never, ever be skipped, it is not a legal requirement to be out on the water. However, most marinas will require you to have insurance in order to moor your boat.

Liquor Licence for Yachts

A liquor licence is not required for private vessel operators – they are your private property, after all. There are exceptions to this rule so it’s best to double check with your yacht broker who can go over the regulations with you depending on what you plan on using your yacht for. For example, chartered yacht operators who are renting their yacht to the general public must have a liquor licence to serve and charge passengers for alcohol. Remember that it’s always illegal to operate your vessel when you’re impaired by alcohol. 

Navigating Your Yacht’s Required Documentation

Located in Sidney, BC, Van Isle Marina is here to help our boat and yacht buyers in the Pacific Northwest navigate their new boat’s documentation requirements. It’s all part of the Van Isle Marina sales experience. Because having the right documents on your yacht leads to smoother sailing for everyone.

Van Isle Marina’s expert yacht sales brokers are available to answer any other questions you might have about yacht ownership. Contact us today or come and see us (and our yachts!) in person.