Serving California Boaters Since 1957

50th AnniversaryCommemorative Album


50th Anniversary
Commemorative Album

During the early 1950s, the growing popularity of recreational boating indicated an increasing need to establish an agency in State Government concerned with the safety of and the providing of facilities for California's boating public. In 1957, the Small Craft Harbor Law (Chapter 2362) created the Small Craft Harbors Commission and the Division of Small Craft Harbors to meet those needs. The division functioned within the Department of Natural Resources until 1961. In October of that year, the Department of Natural Resources was reorganized, and the Division of Small Craft Harbors was relocated to the Department of Parks and Recreation.

At the end of the 1950s, boating had become one of California's most popular forms of recreation. Uniform and effective laws to promote boating safety became necessary. In 1959, the State Legislature, under authority of the Federal Boating Act of 1958, added Chapter 5 to Division 3 of the Harbors and Navigation Code. This act provided for the registration of most undocumented vessels by the State instead of the U.S. Coast Guard. It also established a comprehensive set of State laws and regulations governing the equipment and operation of vessels on all waters of the State. A system of reporting boating accidents was also initiated.

Originally, boat registration was accomplished through the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, in 1961, the State Legislature transferred this function to the Division of Small Craft Harbors. From July 1, 1962 to July 1, 1964, the boat registration function was supported by revenues paid into the General Fund. Since July 1, 1964, boat registration revenues have been paid into the Harbors and Watercraft Revolving Fund. The boat registration function has been supported from the Revolving Fund since that time. The division receives no General Fund support.

On October 6, 1966, pursuant to Chapter 61, Statutes of 1966, the Division of Small Craft Harbors became the Department of Harbors and Watercraft, and the Small Craft Harbors Commission became the Harbors and Watercraft Commission. During this period, studies indicated that there was a wide disparity in the quality of boating law enforcement programs throughout the State. It was found that deficient law enforcement was due primarily to the lack of local funding of such programs. Chapter 1354 of the Statutes of 1969 made funds from boat registration fees available to counties in which revenues from personal property taxes on boats and fees from use of boats on waters under their control were insufficient to fund their local boating safety and law enforcement programs.

In 1968, the Department also became responsible for issuing yacht and ship broker licenses, as well as a comprehensive program to oversee the activities of brokers and salesmen.

The Governor's Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1969 changed the name of the Department of Harbors and Watercraft to the Department of Navigation and Ocean Development.

Under the 1969 reorganization, the new Department acquired the functions, authorities and responsibilities of the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Office of Architecture and Construction as they relate to the planning and design of boating facilities.

The beach erosion control functions of the Department of Water Resources were also transferred to the new Department. With the implementation of the reorganization plan, boat registration functions were transferred back to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take advantage of its automated services and field offices.

Effective January 1, 1979, the Department's name was changed to the California Department of Boating and Waterways, and the Commission became the California Boating and Waterways Commission. The name was changed by the Legislature to better reflect the Department's duties and activities. Commission consent is required on all loans and grants made by the Department for the construction of small craft harbors and boat launching facilities.

DBW Today

Since 2013, DBW has continued to serve boaters as a division of California State Parks. The resources and efficiencies created through the Governor’s Reorganization Plan reduced costs while strengthening the services offered by Boating and Waterways to growing numbers of California recreational boaters.