A Guide to Boating in California

By Mary Wilson November 1, 2021

Boat Insurance

A Guide to Boating in California

California is home to 840 miles of coastline, white sandy beaches, breathtaking ocean adventures, captivating mountain ranges, and inspiring lakes. As one of the most scenic places in the world, it can be impossible to experience everything California has to offer while only staying onshore, walking through San Diego, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or even traveling the famous Pacific Coast Highway, or Route 1 by car. Here at the National Boat Owners Association, we know that the best way to experience California’s natural beauty is by boat. Take a look at our favorite places to go boating in California as well as the important guidelines for keeping yourself, passengers, fellow boaters, wildlife, and your own watercraft safe and protected.

Favorite California Boating Locations

Home to over 3,000 lakes and reservoirs in addition to the amazing hundreds of miles of beaches on its breathtaking coastline, it can be overwhelming to choose the perfect boating destination in California. Our experts at NBOA are sharing a short but sweet list of the top lakes and beaches ideal for cruising, fishing, swimming, kayaking, sightseeing, and enjoying watersports in the Golden State.
Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo County
Bass Lake, Madera County
Capitola Beach, Capitola
Clear Lake, Lake County
Lake Berryessa, Napa County
Lake Don Pedro, Tuolumne County
Lake Havasu, San Bernardino
Lake Oroville, Sierra Nevada
Lake Sonoma, Sonoma County
Lake Tahoe, Sierra Nevada
Long Beach, Los Angeles
Marina Del Ray, Los Angeles
Mono Lake, Mono County
Newport Beach, Orange County
Oceanside Harbor, San Diego
Pyramid Lake, Los Angeles
San Francisco Bay, San Rafael
Shasta Lake, Shasta County
Silverwood Lake, San Bernardino

California Boating Laws

While marveling over California’s amazing wildlife, natural habitats, mountains, oceans, and other nature areas, you will soon realize how much they deserve to be preserved and taken care of. Therefore, always remember the state’s rules, regulations, and safety tips which are set in place to help keep these natural habitats healthy and the ecological richness alive so we can continue to enjoy these lakes, rivers, bays, and oceans safely.

Operating a Watercraft

In the state of California, anyone 12 years or older can legally operate a watercraft under the supervision of a person 18 years or older who holds a valid California Boater Card. Once a person reaches the age of 16 and acquires their own California Boater Card, they will no longer need supervision. However, there is no age requirement to operate a sailboat smaller than 30 ft long or other non-motorized boats.


Carrying a Boating License

While sailing and cruising through California waterways, it is important to always have your California Boating License, also known as a California Boater Education Card, available for inspection. Failure to carry this card while operating a watercraft will result in a fine from the Coast Guard or local law enforcement patrolling the water. As of 2021, the minimum age to operate a watercraft without a California Boater Education Card is 40 years old. However, the age requirement increases each year, and by 2025 all ages will be required to hold a card to legally operate a watercraft. Luckily, there is a quick process to become a certified boat operator in the state of California. Simply take the BOATsmart! Boating safety course here and you can be out enjoying the water on the same day.

Wearing a Lifejacket

Regardless of the size of your watercraft, from personal kayaks and jet skis to larger sailboats or motorboats, it is California law that a properly sized, Coast Guard-approved life jacket is easily accessible on board for each passenger. Be sure that each passenger is aware of the location of a life jacket that fits them in case of an emergency. It should also be made clear that anyone under the age of 13 is required to wear one at all times unless they are wearing a harness on a sailboat or inside an enclosed cabin.

Other Safety Tips

Whistles and other loud noise-making devices are to be accounted for on all motor watercrafts and highly recommended to have on board other nonmotor vessels. Navigational lights should be installed on motorboats and be easily accessible on personal watercrafts in order to safely travel during sunset, sunrise, and overcast or rainy conditions. It should also be noted that the maximum speed between sunset and sunrise is 5 mph. In addition, fire extinguishers, paddles, a 20-ft tow line, and an anchor should be stowed on board in case of emergencies.

Do I Need Boat Insurance in California?

While obtaining a boating license and registration for your watercraft are required by California law, boat insurance requirements in California are not enforced but rather heavily suggested. Safe boating doesn’t only mean ensuring you and your passengers have the tools you need during an emergency or catastrophe; it also means ensuring your boat is protected as well. Insurance for older boats, brand new ski boats, and even a free sailboat you acquired from a friend in California can be obtained and protected by the trusted experts and fellow boat owners here at NBOA. To find out how much boat insurance is in California, reach out to us for boat insurance rates. You can also visit for a customized boat insurance quote.

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