Boat Insurance in California is Not Required – Do You Still Need It?

Boat + water = summertime fun! If you live in California near a body of water like a lake, a river, or the ocean, then chances are you own (or will soon own) a boat. And you may be wondering if you’ll need to get boat insurance in California. The short answer is: no. However, if we delve into what boating insurance is and how you can benefit from having it, then the long answer becomes: yes!

In some cases, homeowners insurance policies will cover a boat, if the value is not more than $2,000 and the boat is smaller (such as a canoe, kayak, or other non-motorized boat). If you have a larger motorized boat, more likely than not, it isn’t covered by your homeowners policy.

Owning a boat is a big decision, and even though insurance is not required, it’s often worth having. Not only to help save you a lot of money but also potential heartache.

Boat Insurance in California

Although California boating laws do not require boat insurance, it’s still highly recommended. Due to the fact, that operating a boat comes with a fair amount of risk. This type of insurance is known as PWC Insurance (aka Personal WaterCraft Insurance). The coverage you receive from PWC Insurance is similar to your automobile insurance and often covers: 

  • Collision
  • Liability
  • Medical
  • Comprehensive
  • On-water towing and labor
  • Emergencies 

If you decide to travel with your boat to another state, check that state’s boating laws before you go. Make sure to verify whether it’s one of the three states that require boat insurance.

California Boating Laws

child on boat wearing a lifejacket

While California Boating Laws may not require boating insurance, it does have several requirements for boat owners. Those requirements include:

Life Jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

California boating law requires that all boats 16′ or more in length (except canoes and kayaks) carry one wearable life jacket for each person on board and one throwable device on the boat. The life jacket must be Coast Guard-approved and easily accessible to all the boat passengers.

Age & Operator Rules

California law requires a boat operator to be at least 16 years old and possess a California Boater Card. This card is legally required to operate a vessel powered by a 15 hp or more motor. There are only two exceptions to this law: 

  • A person 12 – 15 years old can operate a vessel with a 15+ hp motor if they’re supervised by a person at least 18 years old who has a California Boater Card. 
  • There’s no age restriction for operating a sailboat under 30 ft. long or a dinghy used between a moored vessel and shore or between two moored vessels.

Boater Registration

If your boat is more than 8 feet long and has a motor, then it must be registered with the California DMV to legally operate on California’s waterways. Similar to your car, the DMV will issue registration stickers, a Certificate of Number, and a Certificate of Ownership. Your registration must be kept on board your vessel at all times, and your Certificate of Number must be affixed on both sides of the bow in 3″ block letters.

Operation Laws

All boats with motors must be equipped with a lanyard cutoff switch. The lanyard must be connected/attached to the person operating the vehicle. Like motor vehicles, the person operating the boat must have a legal Blood Alcohol Limit of less than 0.08% and not be intoxicated by any other drugs. Additionally, the operator must limit the boat’s speed to 5mph anytime they’re within 100 feet of a swimmer or 200 feet of shore, a swimming float, a diving platform, or a landing.

Need California Boat Insurance?

Ready to insure your boat or other personal watercraft? We work with the biggest carriers to ensure you get the best boating insurance rates! Let our team help you protect your carefree summer days spent on the water!

Alex Rue