Friday, January 25, 2008

On the PCOC...

There exists a lot of confusion out there about pleasure craft operator cards (PCOCs) and pleasure craft licenses, apparently. We receive no end of these. The call usually starts: "Yeah... I want some info on this new license we need to drive a boat...". Or: "I hear we need a license to drive a boat nowadays...".

Or better yet:

Them: "Yeah I wanna get a license for my boat...".

Me: "You mean you want to obtain a Pleasure Craft License for your boat...?"

Them: "Yeah...the one I need to drive it...".

Me: "The one you need to drive it...?"

Them: "Yeah... you know...a driver's license for boats...".

Me: "Sir, there is no such thing as a driver's license for boats in Canada... I promise you."

Them: "But it says here in this bulletin I got from our Marina that I need one...".

Me: "Are you perhaps referring to the Pleasure Craft Operator's Card...?"

Them: "Yeah...that's it...the driver's license...".

Me: "Again sir... it is not a license, by any stretch of the imagination. It is simply proof that the individual who has one, has taken and passed a boating safety exam in Canada. That's all...".

Them: "Well I need one, because they say I have to have one to drive my boat, 'cause it has a 50h.p. motor on it."

Me: "*Sigh*.... Sir, if your boat has a motor of 10 h.p. or greater, you are required by the Canada Shipping Act to obtain a Pleasure Craft License for it. For your boat. Your vessel must be licensed. That law has been in effect for decades now, it is not new."

Them: " see...I need a license!"

Me: "Sir...the Pleasure Craft License is a series of letters and numbers which you will display either side of the bow of your boat. It serves the same purpose as a license plate on a car. It is there as a means of identifying your boat, amongst the millions of others in Canada. It is used by law enforcement officials and Search and Rescue authorities, should your boat be lost, stolen or involved on some sort of marine disaster. In other words, it let's them know whose body they are looking for! That is the only license there is in Canada, when it comes to pleasure craft!"

Them: "So I don't need a license to drive the boat...?"

Me: "You may require what's called "Proof of Competency". All boaters in Canada, regardless of what size boat the operate or what age they are, will require proof of competency by the 15th of September, 2009 at the very latest."

Them: "Would I need it sooner...?"

Me: " That depends... There are 3 classes of pleasure craft operators as far as these regulations go.
1. All boaters who were born after 1983, require proof of competency before they take control of any type of motorized vessel in Canadian waters. That has been the law since the year 2000.
2. Boaters born before 1983 and who operate a boat of 4 meters (13' 3") or less in length, have required proof of competency since 15 September 2002.
3. Boaters born before 1983 and who pilot a boat over 4 meters in length, have until the 15th September 2009, to obtain their proof of competency."

Them: "And what's this 'proof of competency'...?"

Me: "Proof of competency can be one of two things. It can either be proof that the individual has passed a boating safety course anywhere in Canada, before the year 1999 (which is when these new regulations began taking effect...), or it can be a Pleasure Craft Operator's Card (PCOC) that has been issued since 1999. That's it...".

Them: "So... do I need a license?"

Me: "I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you were born after 1983, sir...".

Them: "Wow... you're good!"

Me: "*Large sigh*... Yes, in fact you have required a license since the year 2000".

Them: "I didn't have my boat in 2000...".

Me: "Look... you are required to obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card before you can legally take your boat out on the water. If you are stopped on the water without one in your possession, you will be fined."

Them: " I haven't killed anyone yet, man...".

Me: "Yet" being the operative word in that statement, sir...".

Them: "Oh, yeah...? How much is the fine...?"

Me: "The fine is $250.00...".

Them: "That's not fair!! How are we supposed to know this?"

Me: "By talking to knowledgeable people like us... Sir, every single boater in Canada is required, to say nothing of expected, to know and abide by the many rules and regulations set out for pleasure craft operators, in the Canada Shipping Act. This is nothing new... And as the old saying goes: "Ignorance of the law is not an excuse...They have been advertising this through every media medium since 1998". There are rules and regulations for driving automobiles and flying aircraft...why would you assume that piloting a boat in a dangerous element should be any different?"

Them: "Well what about this license for my boat... what about that? It already has numbers on it..."

Me: "So if I understand, your boat is already licensed. When you bought the boat, did you do a transfer of ownership for the license that is already on the boat?"

Them: "What's that...?"

Me: (Left eye beginning to twitch...) "When you buy a boat from someone and there is a license on the boat, you are required by law to do a transfer of ownership for that pleasure craft license. This you can do through your local Service Canada Centre. They issue, transfer, cancel and replace pleasure craft licenses in Canada and have since 2006."

Them: "Do I have to...? I only use my boat in small lakes here in Ontario. It's not like I go out onto the Great Lakes or anything...".

Me: "Sir... the rules and regulations that govern the operation of pleasure craft in Canadian waters, apply in any body of water in Canada. These aren't just for federal waterways... By the way, how long is your boat...?"

Them: "It's a 26-footer...".

Me: "Does the boat have a marine vhf radio onboard...?"

Them: "I dunno...I thought it was a CB radio...".

Me: "So, you're telling me you're not sure, but you do have a radio onboard the boat. Is it simply an AM/FM/Weather radio, or is it a two-way communications radio?"

Them: "Oh no...I talk to people on it".

Me: "Okay...I think we can safely assume that we're talking about a marine vhf radio. Do you have a Restricted Operator's Certificate - Maritime, to operate that radio legally in Canadian waters, Sir?"

Them: "What? I need a license to use my radio...?"

Me: "Absolutely, sir. Any pleasure craft that has either a fixed or a portable marine vhf radio, the operator must have this certificate in order to be able to use that radio."

Them: "That's retarded...what if I'm in danger and have to call for help? That's what that radio is for!"

Me: "On that we can both agree, sir. But that radio is not a Ham radio or a CB. There is a very specific voice procedure that goes along with using that radio. You have to be qualified in order to use it, certainly if you want people to understand what you're trying to tell them. You must take a course, complete an exam, the whole nine yards."

Them: "Never mind...I think I'll just sell the boat. This is stupid! The government makes it too hard for people to do anything anymore.... Click...".

Me: "And thank you for helping to make our waters just a little safer...".

What is the PCOC? It's just a little plasticized card that says that you've taken a Boating Safety exam. Period! Nothing more... Does it mean that an individual is actually qualified in any way to actually operate a motorized vessel? Absolutely not. It just means that the individual has been exposed to a very basic amount of boating safety rules and regulations. This is designed for their own survival on the water. It means that he or she can no longer feign ignorance. It is an introduction to the Canada Shipping Act and the various sections that make it up.

"Where can I get a Captain's License...", is another question we get a lot. This is asked by those who have a pleasure craft that might be over 20 feet, so they have delusions that they are now qualified to 'captain' a vessel. In the USA, they have training institutions that offer 'captain's license courses'. Americans are big on living in a world of make-believe, it would seem. Here in Canada, if you hold the title of Captain, it means that you are a bona fide, honest-to-God Captain onboard a commercial ship, or a Navy or Coast Guard vessel. For commercial vessels, this certification is issued by Transport Canada - Marine Personnel Standards and Pilotage Branch. For the military, it is of course through DND.

People who play around with pleasure craft, do not merit and are certainly not qualified to bear such a title. There are many civilian training institutes and nautical schools across Canada, which provide many levels of proficiency training courses, for boaters. They issue civilian accreditation, depending on one's actual proficiency in handling and navigating a boat. These qualifications are not issued by any branch of the federal government. The PCOC does not 'qualify' an individual to operate any class vessel. For anyone to think that this very basic introductory course gives them the 'instant expertise' to sail a 60-foot yacht... well, good luck with that. When you kill someone and are faced with civil lawsuits and federal negligence charges under various sections of the Canada Shipping Act, you can certainly take solace in the fact that: "you didn't know any better".

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