Q: The “joke” I keep hearing is that the two happiest days for a boat owner are the day the boat is bought, and the day the boat is sold. I am not believing that, and am about to buy a nice sized motor boat. We have two kids. First question: What are the basics for someone to legally operate a boat here?

M.B., Marina Del Rey

Ron Sokol
Ron Sokol

A: In order to legally operate a vessel powered by a motor of 15 horse power or more, including personal watercraft, California requires a person to be at least 16 years of age and in possession of a California boater card. There are exceptions for people 12 to 15 years of age, if they are supervised on board by someone who is at least 18 years of age and has a California boater card. Also, there is no age restriction to operate a sailboat under 30 feet long (with wind as the main source of propulsion), or a dinghy used between a moored vessel and the shore, or between two moored vessels.

The California Division of Boating and Waterways sets forth online, in detail, the ABCs of California boating. The information there includes required equipment, waterway markings, and emergency and accident procedures.  Go to dbw.parks.ca.gov (or type “California Division of Boating and Waterways, ABCs” in your web browser) for more information.

Q: Second question — is it necessary to have insurance for the boat?

M.B., Marina Del Rey

A: In California, liability coverage is required to operate a boat or personal watercraft. You must carry at least $15,000/$30,000 for bodily injury — the former for a single claimant, the latter no matter how many — and $5,000 for property damage. That said, a note of caution: These minimums may not be enough (or nearly enough) if a major accident occurs.

Notice requirement

California law requires a boater involved in an accident to submit a written report to the Division of Boating and Waterways when there is a death, disappearance or injury requiring medical care beyond first aid, or if there is property damage totaling more than $500.

Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 35 years, and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator.  It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.


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