Changes could be coming to pleasure craft licensing in Canada

Bird's eye view of white speedboat driving along the blue lake water, creating waves. Photo by Andrea Berg / Shutterstock

Heading out on the lake to cruise on your boat this year? Don’t forget to check out potential new regulations around pleasure craft licencing. 

Transport Canada is proposing changes to modernize pleasure craft licensing, which will come into effect in the winter of 2023. 

Proposed changes to pleasure craft licencing include:

  • Introducing a five-year validity period for pleasure craft licences (PCL). 
  • Expanding the Small Vessel Regulations to include all pleasure crafts equipped with motors of 10 hp or more and all pleasure crafts (including all power-driven and sail-alone vessels) above six metres in length. 
  • Owners must notify Transport Canada of a name or address change and of a sale or transfer of a vessel within 30 days. 
  • Easier cancellation of a pleasure craft licence, if a lifetime PCL holder fails to apply, a PCL holder fails to renew a PCL, or a PCL holder wishes to remove their pleasure craft from service.
  • Introducing a $15 service fee to process an application to obtain, renew, or duplicate a PCL.

Is it really necessary to renew my pleasure craft licence every five years?

Sergeant Dave Moffatt, the provincial marine coordinator of the Highway Safety Division under the Ontario Provincial Police says, yes. He believes the change to the validity period is long overdue and will assist enforcement officers in cleaning the database. If accepted, the changes will create a more streamlined process for locating missing people, finding owners of abandoned boats, and removing them to prevent a navigational hazard. “In the past, we could spend days trying to find out who the owners are,” says Sergeant Moffatt. “Someone could have registered the boat 20 years prior and then sell it. In my experience, you can have 10 different owners before you find the right one.” 

Sara Anghel, the president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association Canada also supports the changes. “There is a lot of old data that may make it challenging when there is an incident or law enforcement is trying to find a boat.”

While there are some licences that have a ten year validity period, this proposed pleasure craft licencing change will greatly affect the holders of a grandfathered licence, which currently have no expiration date. Sergeant Moffatt affirms that this change is key to prioritizing boater safety by ensuring boat owners are connected to their vessels. 

But, what’s the deal with the fee?

Without the change, costs will continue to be absorbed by taxpayer dollars. There is a lot of maintenance that occurs on Canadian waterways, such as maintaining markers and protecting Canada’s marine environment. This fee would help support maintenance costs. 

What are people saying about the proposed changes? 

Public consultation was completed over 65 days, and Transport Canada received 900 comments. Canadians (including recreational boaters), marine stakeholders, law enforcement agencies, boating safety advocates, pleasure craft dealers, associations that represent cottagers and associations that represent anglers, hunters, trappers and recreational fishers were among those that provided comments.

The proposed changes received mixed responses. While some feel that the changes are positive, others believe that there is still something missing. “I would like to see the system given back to boaters. For example, the changes don’t address climate change, the environment, or more access and infrastructure. I want people to get back what they are putting into it,” says Sara Anghel. 

Many participants, while agreeing with the proposal, also suggested using a service fee to fund abandoned vessels, inadequate black water disposal facilities, and mooring buoys. Others recommended mandating liability insurance when new boaters obtain a licence. Respondents were also in agreement that they would like to see Transport Canada take a more active role in education. Such campaigns could include updating information regularly and clarifying the differences between a pleasure craft licence and a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Lastly, participants believe it would be beneficial to engage more stakeholders such as anglers, hunters, and trappers (to better understand the socioeconomic impacts of the proposed changes) and marine trade associations (who administer the Pleasure Craft Licensing Programs).

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