Legal Age for Driving a Jet Ski in California

You may wonder if your child is old enough to drive the jet ski or not. Your answer, if you live in California, is below.

People 12 to 15 years of age may drive a jet ski IF they are supervised on board by someone at least 18 years old WITH a California boater card. People 16 or older can get a California boater card and then legally drive a jet ski without supervision.

How to get a California Boater Card

  1. Complete a boating safety course

In order to complete a course, you need to take a course that is approved by NASBLA and the California Division of Boating and Waterways. If you want to find a list of approved courses can be found on the website

There are two ways you can complete the course: in a class or online. The online course can be taken for $34.95. The course should take around 6 hours to complete. The passing score in California is 80 percent. Once you study and pass the course you can move on to the next step: getting your card.

2. Apply for the California boater card online

Send in your application to and then receive it by mail. You will need to include your printed out online completion document in your application. The card will be $10 and the lost card replacement fee is $5.

Boater Card Pre-Qualification

Many people have the question of whether or not they are pre-qualified for a boaters card by taking a boaters safety course.

The answer is no: as of January 1, 2019, DBW will only accept education courses taken since January 1, 2018. There are new rules outlined in the new course that need to be addressed to all who drive a watercraft.


It is the law to have a boater education card on board at all times and have it ready for inspection.

Consequences of Not Having a California Boater Card

If you are driving a jet ski or any other kind of watercraft without a California boater card, you will be fined. Conviction details are shown below:

  • 1st conviction: fine of around $100
  • 2nd conviction: fine of around $250
  • 3rd conviction: fine of around $500


  • All PWCs need to have a lanyard cutoff switch (the lanyard is attached to the driver)
  • No operation after dark (between sunset and sunrise)
  • The legal blood alcohol limit for someone driving a watercraft is less than 0.08%
  • It is against the law to be intoxicated by alcohol or drugs while driving the jet ski
  • You have to limit your speed to 5 mph when you are within 100 feet of a swimmer, within 200 feet of the shore
  • Follow all speed limits
  • For a boat 16 feet or longer, you must have an accessible type IV device for throwing (a ring, or horseshoe buoy) for each boat

Equipment you need on board by law:

  • Type B fire extinguisher
  • Whistle/horn
  • Visual distress signals (flares)
  • Life jackets (Children aged 12 or younger must wear a life jacket, all water-skiers and PWC operators must wear a life jacket at all times)
  • Your registration for the watercraft

Other suggested equipment:

  • Paddle (In case your battery dies and you have to paddle to shore)
  • Extra life jackets for guests
  • Bungee dock line (To tie your PWC to the docks)
  • Anchor

One thing to keep in mind is that as of January 1, 2018, California has required ALL boaters aged 20 or younger to carry a California boater education card!

How the New California Boater Law is Being Implemented

The California Boater law was reinforced in January 2018 and will be implemented in a total of eight phases. At the very beginning of each year, another part of the population will be required to get a California boater law license. Here is the layout of the phases:

  • January 1, 2018: People 20 and younger
  • January 1, 2019: People 35 and younger
  • January 1, 2020: People 35 and younger
  • January 1, 2021: People 40 and younger
  • January 1, 2022: People 45 and younger
  • January 1, 2023: People 50 and younger
  • January 1, 2024: People 60 and younger
  • January 1, 2025: ALL people regardless of age

By 2025 all persons on the water will be required to have a California boater card! This new law has been enforced because there were around 400 accidents and 50 deaths in 2015 from boating accidents in California. The goal of this law is the hope that people will know and abide by the laws on the water to avoid accidents.

Boating Accident for Young Drivers

Just like an automobile accident, there are obligations you must take. Some of these include staying after the accident, rendering assistance, and providing information such as insurance to the other person involved in the accident. More specific rules are stated below:

  • If an accident happens it must be reported to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways
  • If your accident includes the following it needs to be reported within 48 hours of the accident:
  • Death occurring within 24 hours of the accident
  • Disappearance
  • Injury beyond first aid
  • If your accident includes the following it needs to be reported within 10 days of the accident:
  • Death occurring more than 24 hours after the accident
  • Damage to the property over $500
  • Complete loss of any vessel

Rules for Residents of Other States (Driving in California)

A person who is visiting California does not need to have a California boater card, but they may use the waters of California for no longer than 60 days and they need to meet the applicable boating requirements of their home state.


  • A person driving a rental vessel
  • A person driving a vessel under the supervision of a person 18 years or older who has a California Boater card (ages 12-15)
  • A person who is from another state who is temporarily (no more than 60 days) driving on California waters with the boating requirements from their home state met
  • A person from another country who is temporarily (no more than 90 days) driving on California waters with the boating requirements from their country met
  • A person driving a vessel in a race
  • A person who has a current commercial fishing license
  • A person who has a marine operator license for the waters the license allows issued by the United States Coast Guard
  • A person who has a valid certificate from the International Convention on standards of training
  • A person who has completed a boating course that is approved by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training Post

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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