Get the card!

Canada has now mandated that all power boat users are required to pass a PCOC test before they can legally operate a pleasure craft. This law was brought in to address the situation in the country where many boat operators were incompetent, leading to significant numbers of accidents, injuries and deaths on the water. The law was phased in over time for various segments of the population but is now mandatory for all boaters.

The Pleasure Craft Operator Card, or PCOC, is proof that a boater has met the legal requirements of boating. It is obtained by writing a multiple choice exam that tests the candidate's knowledge of general boating regulations and practices. Many of the questions are common sense. For example, the use of alcohol while boating may be covered by the test. All consumption of alcohol while operating a boat is illegal. This should be basic knowledge for all. Other test questions involve the proper methods of overtaking other boats, operating in shipping channels and the meaning of certain markers such as buoys.

The PCOC test is not particularly difficult but some advance planning is advised. Various boating agencies, such as local yacht clubs, offer classes and exams. There are many online agencies as well. These often allow ample study time online prior to the actual exam session. All users of online services should look for those that offer free retakes in the event that the exam is failed initially. While proper preparation should ensure a passing grade, it is a good idea to have free retakes available for those unfortunate circumstances.

Since the pleasure craft operator card is now required, Canada now imposes hefty fines for those caught operating boats without it. The police now regularly patrol the waters and can ask for proof of the card at any time. Even though the card has been mandatory since September 15, 2009, there are still many people who do not have it. While statistics are not yet available, it may be certain that the majority of boating accidents are caused by those who have not passed the test. Of course the test will not stop all dangerous activities but it may give boaters a basic understanding that can prevent future accidents.

Visitors to Canada who intend to operate a boat are often exempt from the PCOC requirements. If they do not boat in Canada for more than 44 days, they do not need to obtain the card. If they rent a boat, they do not need a card but they do need to comply with a boat safety checklist available at the time of rental. The boat rental staff will be aware of the checklist and other regulations. Regular visitors to Canada may want to obtain the card regardless of whether it is required for them or not. With it, the visiting boater will be complying with Canadian law and may learn some boating laws that differ from those in their home country.

The Pleasure Craft Operator Card is valid for life, is easily prepared for and is relatively inexpensive. The alternative of operating a boat without it is dangerous and potentially very expensive. All Canadian boaters who operate power vessels should write their test at the earliest opportunity.