A Guide to Getting your Ontario Boating Card

Get your Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) and then get out on the water!

With over 250,000 lakes in Ontario, boating is an outstanding way to explore the province, whether you’re into fishing, luxury experiences, art, or the simple serenity of being out on the water. If you are planning on renting or buying your own boat, read on to ensure that you've got what you need before heading out on the water. 

What is a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC), and Who Needs One?

The Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) is also known as your boating license—and it's mandatory for operating any motorized boats in Canada, including electric trolling motors and sailboats. This card is valid for life in every province, and serves as proof that you understand the rules and regulations of boating recreationally in Canada, and that you have basic knowledge of boat handling. Although it's sometimes referred to as a boating license, it’s not technically a license since it’s valid for life and doesn’t need to be renewed.

Alternate proof of recreational boating competency:

There are some exceptions to needing a PCOC card, for instance:

  • If you have a certificate that proves you took a Canadian boating safety course before the current regulation came into effect (April 1, 1999).

  • If you have a professional marine certificate.

  • If you’re renting a boat under specific conditions.

  • If you’re boating in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

A complete list of acceptable proof of competency is on the Transport Canada website.

Do International Visitors to Canada Need a PCOC?

International visitors to Canada and non-residents are eligible to take the test to receive a PCOC, but may not need one in certain circumstances, as outlined in the Requirements for Foreign Recreational Boaters in Canadian Waters.

Registering for the PCOC Course and Card

Make sure your course is accredited by Transport Canada. There are currently 19 accredited course providers, as listed on the Transport Canada website. Registering for a course and card is a one-time fee and the card is valid for life.

Lost or damaged cards will need to be replaced, as electronic or photocopied versions of the card are inadmissible, and operating without your PCOC can result in a fine.

If you need a replacement card, it is issued by the provider you took the course with, and is subject to a small replacement fee.

Considerations When Choosing a Course and Card Provider

  • The language you’d like to take the course and test in (English or French.)

  • If you learn best with in-class instruction or independent online instruction.

  • The cost – fees for the course vary slightly and are determined by the individual providers. They run between around $25-50 for the course, which includes the card when you pass the test. Some providers offer discounts if two or more people in a family or group register for the test at the same time. 

What to Expect for the PCOC Course and Test

The course covers topics like: boating terms and regulations, navigational aids, sharing waterways with other boats, and how to prevent and respond to boating emergencies.

If you’re taking the course in-person, expect it to take around four hours, and you’ll have up to 90 minutes to complete the test.

Taking the course online, you should be able to get through the modules in around three hours and you’ll have up to 75 minutes to complete the test.

The test is open-book, consisting of 50 multiple-choice questions, 38 of which need to be correctly answered to receive your PCOC. If you don’t pass the test the first time, you can try again after 24 hours.

Age Restrictions

The test is designed to be taken by boaters of all ages. If you’re over 16 and have your PCOC, you may operate a pleasure craft with any size motor. Under 16 years of age, you are not allowed to operate a personal watercraft (also called a jet ski), although between the ages of 12 and 16, with your PCOC, you may operate a pleasure craft with a motor less than 40 hp (30 kW). Under 12 years of age, you may operate a pleasure craft with a motor less than motor with no greater than 10 hp (7.5 kW) with your PCOC.

Additional Ways to Stay Safe on the Water

1.  Download the Boating Safety app which has tools to help you plan and prepare for your trip, useful boating reminders, and emergency information.

2.  Get a free Pleasure Craft Courtesy Check. A boating safety volunteer will visit your boat to check safety equipment and help identify any issues you may have, which could not only help keep you safe, but also help you avoid a fine down the line.

Happy boating! 

About Celeste Percy-Beauregard

Celeste Percy-Beauregard is an Ontario-based writer who discovered just how large our province is when she travelled across it in a cube truck performing children’s theatre and eating all of the poutines along the way.

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