How to Licence a Pleasure Craft in Canada (Must Know in 2022)

How to License a Pleasure Craft or vessel in Canada

How to License a Pleasure Craft in Canada: So, you just bought a new pleasure craft and want to licence it in Canada. I think you would agree that not all rules surrounding pleasure craft licensing in Canada/Ontario/BC are crystal clear. You’re not alone. The truth is, it is fairly straightforward and significantly easier than it used to be a few years ago. We are going to answer a few of your most frequently asked questions regarding pleasure craft licencing in Canada. We will demystify the complicated acronyms and terms and will give a list of things to do in order to apply for your pleasure craft license, renew, or transfer it. This article can be downloaded in PDF format.

PCOC is not the same as boat licence (PCL) in Canada

The operator card (PCOC) is obtained when you pass the exam while the license for the boat itself (PCL) is obtained when you ‘register’ the boat with transport Canada. We will explain PCL in detail in this article.


Example Canada boat pleasure craft licence (PCOC). This is different from PCL.
Example pleasure craft licence operator card (PCOC) in Canada

A Canadian Boating License is also known as a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, is a federal competency card like a driver license issued to you upon the successful completion of an accredited Transport Canada Boating Safety Test. A PCOC allows you to legally operate a motorized recreational boat in Canada. Although it is commonly referred to as a ‘license’ this is incorrect and it is just an operator card proving competence. On the other hand, a Pleasure Craft Licence is a document that contains all the I.D. numbers for the boat. The document must be carried on board your boat at all times, and the numbers must be displayed on your boat for identification purposes. It is issued by the PCELS system in Transport Canada .

Official Transport Canada YouTube Channel Video on Pleasure Craft Licensing in Canada

What is a pleasure craft?

A pleasure craft is a vessel that is used for recreation and does not carry passengers. It is a vessel of a prescribed class under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. #PleasureCraft #Licence

What is a pleasure craft licence and why do I need it?

A pleasure craft licence provides a unique identification number. It is not the HIN and is sometimes referred to as the “licence number”. You must display on your recreational vessel, as required under the Small Vessel Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. This licence number helps law-enforcement (or search and rescue) officials to trace a pleasure craft to its owner. It should not be confused with your Hull identification Number explained below or the title of the boat (registration)

What is a Hull Identification Number

The Hull Identification Number or HIN, is the serial number of the boat that was placed on the vessel by the manufacturer. It is always 12 characters long and could be prefixed by the country code such as US- or CA- for a total of 15 characters. To learn more about HINs, read all you wanted to know about hull ID numbers. The HIN is on the transom (not the bow). Usually affixed on a metal plate or etched into the hull.

Podcast: How to Licence a Pleasure Craft in Canada


Boat Number Licensing In Canada versus Boat Registration In Canada.

There is an important difference between Licenced and Registered vessels in Canada. The PCL licence is just a boat number that is displayed on the bow and it is free. While boat registration is more official since you get issued an official number and ownership is tracked. Think of it like provincial vs federal. Registration provides certain benefits, such as the right to fly the Canadian flag on your vessel and is required if you want to use your vessel as security for a marine mortgage (or boat lien). Read more about Canadian boat registration here which costs $250 CAD or $150 to transfer. If you want to know the history of a registered boat you can order a transcript.

Operator Licensing PCOCThis is like a driver licence for boats for competency
Boat Licensing PCLThis is the boat licence for law enforcement and rescue
#RegistrationThis is like titling a boat officially
Comparison of Terminology

Benefits of Boat Registration over PCL

  • Official Number issued for the boat
  • Database of boat ownership tracking (A licence does not prove that you own your pleasure craft. You must carry separate ownership documents with you.)
  • History of the Boat can be searched
  • Vessel Registry transcript can be ordered any time (PCL does not have that)
  • Liens and Mortgages for boats are recorded and can be searched
  • A boat name
  • Proof of ownership

Canadian spelling is different.

Canadian spelling changes depending on the usage of the word. The noun “a boat licence” is spelled with a “c”. When used as a verb or adjective it is spelled with an “s”: “to license a boat”, “licensing a boat”, or a “licensed boat”.

How many boats are in Canada?

There are 130,000 boats registered in Canada but there are 1.3 million boats licenced as pleasure craft in Canada according to data collected by Some may have expired or been sold/disposed of.

Where should the pleasure craft license number be displayed

The number must be displayed on both sides of the bow and it must be above the waterline, as far forward as possible. It must be written in block letters at least 7.5cm high that contrast with the colour of your boat.

Pleasure craft licence: Canadian boat licence number display size
Canadian boat licence number display size

Which Boats should have a Pleasure Craft License in Canada?

All motorized boats and PWCs in Canada powered by a motor of 10 hp or more are required to have a Pleasure Craft License. You can obtain a 10 year license for free from the Pleasure Craft Licensing Centre. The license is valid for a period of 10 years, beginning the day it was issued, transferred or renewed.


How much does a Pleasure craft licence cost in Canada?

According to Transport Canada’s website, a Pleasure craft licence is free. You just have to fill out the paperwork. Having said that, in January 2022, there were talks of adding a fee (regulatory charge) to help finance a vessel “remediation fund” that would enable the government deal with abandoned vessels.

What do pleasure craft licence numbers look like? (versus boat registration numbers in Canada)

PCL boats usually have a format that starts with two letters for the province such as QC12345. This is not to be confused with Canadian registered boats that have an official number such as O.N.15484 or C84848. The registered official numbers can be searched on the vessel query system unlike PCL. It can be a little confusing at first since the numbering has evolved over time.

How to tell if your boat is registered or licenced in Canada
How to tell if your boat is registered or licenced in Canada

If a boat has a number-letter combination on the boat’s bow such as 32E9876 (E is Ontario, 32 is Ottawa), it was licensed before 2007. If the boat has a provincial digraph followed by digits (BC12345 is British Columbia), the licence was issued by Service Canada on behalf of Transport Canada. A license number that begins with “C” (e.g., C00000BC) is a Small Commercial Vessel licensed prior to 2007 – these are now registered in the Small Vessel Registry of Transport Canada. It is highly recommended that pre-2007 licence owners apply for a new number at no charge, which will be entered into the new licence data system.

Steps to License a Pleasure Craft in Canada

Step1: Determining whether a Pleasure Craft Licence is required:

By default, every pleasure craft must obtain a Pleasure Craft Licence, with the following exceptions:

  • Your boat only has a motor with less than 10 horsepower (7.5 kW).
    • Do you need a boat license for a 9.9 HP Canada? No.
  • Your boat already has a vessel registration.
  • A vessel that was purchased in the last 90 days. (a grace period, during which the new owner must carry documentation with their name and address and the purchase date)

Step2: Obtaining a Pleasure Craft Licence

There are two ways to apply for a Pleasure Craft Licence:

  • Apply by sending the application form by mail (address below). The form is just one page.
image of pleasure craft licence forms in canada

Mail all documents to the following Transport Canada address:

Pleasure Craft Licensing Centre
P.O. Box 2006
Fredericton, New Brunswick
E3B 5G4

  • Apply for PCL online using the Pleasure Craft Electronic Licensing System (PCELS):
    • Select “owner” and application type “new”
    • Accept the privacy statement and click continue
Application for Canada pleasure craft licence
  • Fill in the rest of the form to provide applicant information and boat info following all the steps and required fields on the PCELS system:
Application for Canada pleasure craft licence step 2
Application for Canada pleasure craft licence

You will need to have the following documents (required) to complete the PCL submission online:

  • Proof of ownership of the pleasure craft.
  • A signed copy of a valid piece of government-issued ID.
  • A recent side-view colour-photo of the pleasure craft.

Transport Canada Website

If you need a full FAQ about PCL, please visit

Are you required to register a pleasure craft in Canada?

Yes but it is not called “registering”. It is called licensing a pleasure craft. See requirements and exceptions above. Make sure to know what you are doing as there is a $250 fine for not licensing your vessel. If you want to be extra sure, take the PCL questionnaire here.

How to change ownership of a pleasure craft – Transfer PCL

Changing Information, updating ownership, and transferring a license when selling pleasure craft in any province would be the same process. Simply fill out the same online form shown above but select “transfer” instead of “new” and put in the current PCL number into the box.

Again, to transfer a Canadian licensed pleasure craft to your name, you have two options apply for the transfer of the pleasure craft licence number online (electronically) through the Pleasure Craft Electronic Licensing System (PCELS) or send the form by post. You will need the bill of sale (see below).

When you buy a used boat with a “licence”, you must transfer the licence within 90 days. Take a “bill of sale” signed by the previous owner and the completed transfer form (reverse side of Pleasure Craft Licence form) to Service Canada. If a used boat has no vessel licence or registration papers, contact Transport Canada “Marine Safety” for information. Beware of scams!

Changing provinces for a pleasure craft licence

If you are moving from Ontario to Quebec for example, simply change the first two letters ON1234 to QC1234. and Note that there could be taxes owing in your province when you buy a boat unless the marina included that in the purchase. (check with your province for details).

How do I replace a lost or damaged pleasure craft licence?

Make sure to apply for a replacement immediately since there is a $250 fine for operating a vessel without one. Transport Canada will send you a replacement for lost or stolen PCL. Follow the steps here.

Does a Pleasure Craft Licence expire?

PCL licences are valid for 10 years but you must update your name and address if there are any changes

Can Americans/foreigners or even two people own a pleasure craft in Canada?

A pleasure craft vessel licensed in Canada can be owned by any person or organization from any country. So yes you can buy a boat in Canada if you are American. Also, there is a possibility to have a maximum of 2 owners. On the other hand, registered boats have different rules for joint owners.

Bill of Sale Required for Pleasure Craft Licensing

As part of the documents you will need when buying/transferring ownership of a pleasure craft in Canada, is the Bill Of Sale signed by both parties. There are templates you can buy and print but here is a free sample bill of sale from Transport Canada:

How to lookup a boat HIN in Canada for a PCL boat? – Use a boat license number lookup website.

In order to get information about a boat, you need the HIN since it tracks the boat as it changes owners or gets listed in negative events in the history of the boat. searched 72+ databases in USA and Canada including registered and licenced Canadian vessels.

The database combines 72+ nationwide databases into a single place so you can search in a matter of minutes. These include records for stolen boats, marine lien claims, boating accidents, pollution incidents, auctioned boats, factory recalls, and boat manufacturers.

Search a Canadian Boat Hull ID history report with
Click to Order a HIN Report
Infographic - Licence a Pleasure Craft in Canada
Infographic – Licence a Pleasure Craft in Canada


We used boat and vessel interchangeably with watercraft and pleasure craft in todays article


The Government of Canada agency responsible for Pleasure craft is known as Transport Canada.


We addressed this topic from the perspective of Canadians living in Canada who just bought a pleasure craft privately. Dealers would help you with the paperwork usually.


The official list of papers and documents you need will be on the transport Canada website. We try to be as accurate as possible but their website remains the official reference.


Boats in Canada do not have a title in the same way they do in places like Florida. The closes thing is Registering the vessel.

For another video check out
How to licence a pleasure craft in canada from

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