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Hit the Books before Boating

Before the coming summer season is over, every person who wants to operate any motorboat under four meters (about 13.1 feet) in length in Canada must have a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. There is no exemption for people over a certain age or with many years of experience. Effective September 15 of this year, everyone must have the card if they want to operate a vessel of less than four metres with a motor of any size. That includes personal water craft (PWC) and many smaller boats used by day tripping anglers.

People born after April 1, 1983, are already required to have the card before operating a powerboat of any length or a PWC. Effective September 15, 2009, everyone of any age will need the card before operating a powerboat of any length.

Obtaining the card usually means taking a course and writing an exam. Experienced boaters can skip the course and just take the exam if they wish, but most choose to take the course to ensure they pass. The test includes 36 questions, 27 of which must be answered correctly to pass and receive the card.

The only exception to the requirement to take the exam is people who have previously completed a safe boating course, such as Power Squadron. To exempt the person from writing the new test, the earlier course must have been completed before April 1, 1999. This certtificate is proof of competency, but people who meet this requirement can obtain the plastic, credit card like Pleasure Craft Operator Card by mailing in a photocopy of the certificate and $25.

Once the Pleasure Craft Operator Card is obtained, it is valid for life. The courses and tests are offered by a wide range of organizations. A listing of where classroom courses are being held in Manitoba, Northwestern Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan can be found on the web site of the Forensic & Nautical Consultants of Canada . Courses in Northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia can be found on the Localcourses.com web site. The cost of the course and taking the test is generally $60.

Another alternative is to study the course material and take the test online. Two sites that provide this service are BoaterExam.com and theboatcard.ca .The cost of obtaining a Pleasure Craft Operator Card this way is $35 through BoaterExam.com, or $50 with theboatcard.ca.

On the BoaterExam.com site, people can take a sample exam before tackling the real thing. This is an accurate representation of the real exam consisting of 36 multiple-choice questions. Upon completing the practice exam, people are immediately graded, and allowed to review any incorrect answers. Taking this step can result in saving money because anyone who fails the real exam has to take it again - at a cost of $10 per try.

One complication for taking the test on line is that it has to be supervised by an Exam Supervisor, someone who ensures that you don't cheat on your exam and that you take the test yourself. The supervisor cannot be related to you, and must be the age of majority. It can be a friend, neighbor, or co-worker, or a permanent supervisor who will perform the service for a fee not exceeding $15. A list of permanent supervisors across Canada is found on the BoaterExam.com web site.

People who pass the exam on the BoaterExam.com web site can print a temporary Operator Card immediately. Receiving the permanent card through the mail takes about three weeks.