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California Boaters Under 20 Now Need A License

Calvin Pedroli takes his motor boat out from the San Diego Yacht Club with hi...

Photo by Kris Arciaga

Above: Calvin Pedroli takes his motor boat out from the San Diego Yacht Club with his friend Parker Roberts, June 30, 2017.

At the start of this year, California made a big change for recreational boaters. For years, anyone could just hop on a boat and drive it without training. Now, the state is requiring boaters to get licenses.

The law will phase in slowly, targeting the youngest boaters first. Starting Jan. 1, 2018, everyone under 20 needs to get licenses. Each year, the age requirement will increase until all boaters need licenses by 2025.

RELATED: New California Law Requires Boating Licenses, Except For Renters

So far, the state has received about 2,200, said Bria Miller, the California Boater Card program analyst. She said the application process is going smoothly so far.

"It's very simple, people haven't really had too many problems just being able to go online and input their information," she said.

It costs $10 to get a license, which lasts a lifetime. Applicants have to take a boating safety course and earn a certificate. They can then take a picture of the certificate with their phone and upload it, Miller said. The application can be found at californiaboatercard.com.

The new law does not apply to people who rent boats, or to people who pilot boats without motors.

California Boater Card Requirements Timeline

2018: Age 20 or younger

2019: 25 or younger

2020: 35 or younger

2021: 40 or younger

2022: 45 or younger

2023: 50 or younger

2024: 60 or younger

2025: Everyone

California is one of just five states ― besides Alaska, Arizona, South Dakota and Wyoming ― that currently does not require any license to boat, though some states only have requirements for people under 18, according to the American Boating Association.

Last year, California had more boating accidents than any other state besides Florida. That is likely in part because the state has one of the biggest coastlines in the county and is among the top five states for number of registered boats, according to data from the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to the Coast Guard, 77 percent of deaths last year occurred on boats where the operator did not receive any boating safety instruction.

For years, anyone could just hop on a boat and drive it without training. Now, the state is requiring boaters to get licenses.

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Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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