Pleasure Craft Operating Cards
In the 10 years that the federal government phased in the requirements to have Pleasure Craft Operating cards only about 35% of over 10 million boaters bothered to take the test which is widely available online, at boat show events and even parked out-front of local grocery stores in cottage country. That means the majority of boaters are out on the water illegally. To make matters worse, a good portion of those boaters don't know the difference between Port and Starboard ... and it makes you wonder when you are out on a busy hot weekend in Midland Bay, and all these boats are careening every which way ... and many of them have no clue about right of way as it pertains to boat use, let alone the finer details of boat safety and etiquette like the "slow pass" technique when overtaking another boat.
Being caught without an operator's card could cost more than $500. Police can write up a $250 fine for the person operating the boat, and another $250 fine for the boat owner as well, even if the owner has the operators card. Police can also issue $100 fines for EACH piece of safety equipment missing from the boat they stop. Even someone in a small aluminum fishing boat or a canoe with a trolling motor must have the operating card and all the necessary safety equipment designated for the boat size. It is clear that a lot of people apparently still have no idea they need this card even though it's widely advertised and "in your face" at many venues.
There is a safe boating manual and a safe boating guide that is free from Transport Canada. The booklets go over the rules on the water and safety procedures. Boaters can take the Pleasure Craft Operating Card test for around $50 ... with free retries if you don't pass the first time. The tests draw from some 800 multiple choice questions and takes about 45 minutes to complete. You need 75% to pass. Children under 12 with an Operators Card can only operate boats of 10 horsepower or less by themselves and children 12 to 16 can operate boats up to 40 horsepower by themselves with a card. Anything more powerful and they must be accompanied by an adult. Regulations also restrict the use of personal watercraft to persons with a card 16 and older. Did I mention the other day I saw a 4 year old driving a PWC like a maniac with Dad sitting behind him playing the part of role model it seems without the realization he somehow got shorted at the gene pool.
So what is holding people back from acquiring the card?
1/ It costs money.
2/ There isn't a very large police presence on the water.
3/ Police on the water often let boaters off with a warning.
4/ People believe they just can't give up the time to take the test (but they have the time to boat).
5/ They are afraid they may fail the test.
The rules of the road for cars are easier to follow that the interpretive rules of boating. After all, with cars half the battle is just staying in the well identified traffic lane. In contrast boaters can head off in any direction ... and they do, sometimes very erratically and dangerously. When you are boating in a busy area it's always a challenge to anticipate what that boat coming towards you might do because to be quite honest the majority don't know or don't pay any attention to "right of way" and are often running way too fast given other boat traffic in the area. I'm a sailor as well as power boater so I can say this - many sailors think they ALWAYS have right of way over a power boat and tacking right in front of a powerboat coming down the channel is poor etiquette and careless whether they have right of way or not. Likewise many power boaters rock the crap out of sailors when passing from the stern and they have never been schooled in the art of the slow pass technique.
If you don't have your Pleasure Craft Operators Card it's time to get it. If you have an accident on the water without your card you will be held liable and it is very unlikely if you are charged after you total someone else's boat and likely your own boat too that you will get marine insurance again! While Operators Cards are not a drivers license per say, they do establish a base level of knowledge and demonstrate a standard competency level. If you don't have the card the assumption is you are not competent to pilot a boat even if you have been fishing since you were knee high to a grasshopper.