a beautiful swimming pool outside surrounded by palm trees

Swimming Pool Contractors are specialty tradesman who engage in pool, spa and hot tub:

  • Design and Fabrication
  • Installation
  • Repair and Maintenance 
  • Demolition
  • Environmental Testing

This article will provide you with every single detail you need to know about C-53 license requirements, the contractor exam, study guides, as well as information on the D-35 Pool and Spa Maintenance license.

What is a Swimming Pool Contractor?

"A swimming pool contractor constructs swimming pools, spas or hot tubs, including the installation of solar heating equipment using those trades or skills necessary for such construction" - CSLB.GOV

The C-53 license is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid on pool and spa projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500.

Duties of a Swimming Pool Contractor

Swimming pool contractors engage in a wide variety of duties associated with swimming pools but typically their responsibilities include:

  • Design, installation and repair of pools, spas and hot tubs
  • Excavation, plumbing, and pouring concrete
  • Assessing water loss and discoloration
  • Steel placement and bonding
  • Shotcrete placement and curing  
  • Tile work and electrical wiring
  • Decking, scoping and tiling
  • Handling various products including fiberglass, vinyl, and metal
  • Maintaining a safe job site
  • Bidding, site planning, estimation and accounting

If you specialize only in pool and spa maintenance, there is a sub-classification known as the D-35 Pool and Spa Maintenance license

Swimming Pool Subcontractors

A metal swimming pool frame being installed on top of the ground

Swimming Pool Contractors that hold the C-53 license work in a variety of settings. Typically they are hired by homeowners to erect swimming pools or spas. 

They may take on larger contracts with local governments or large companies.

A swimming pool contractor may also be subcontracted by a general Contractor who has accepted a bid that includes swimming pool construction.

Check out this article for an in-depth look at the General Contractor License!


Logo of the contractors state license board. Contains illustration of a paint brush, saw and cement truck with the letters CSLB above. the C-53 license is a classification of contractor license offered by the CSLB

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California.

Their sole responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state of California. 

The C-53 License is issued to swimming contractors by the CSLB.

In addition to licensing, the CSLB also:

  • Processes Applications
  • Administers Exams
  • Maintains databases of active contractors
  • Conducts sting operations targeting un-licensed construction activity
a pencil and ruler sitting ontop of a construction blueprint

Knowing how to read blueprints is an important skill for swimming pool contractors.

Construction blueprints provide a visually representation of a project, which is vital when making measurements and calculating costs for pool or spa installation. 

Blueprint Reading Skills are also critical to pass the General Contractor exam.

Check out this Blue Print Reading Course for a basic introduction to the concepts you will want to know about.

How to get the C-53 License

To get a C-53 license in California, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is a Journey level experience?

the beginning stages of a pool construction. Area of the pool is set with metal bars. journey level experience is required of anyone looking to get the C-53 license

Journeyman level experience means that you have worked unsupervised full time for a swimming pool company, or for a contractor that holds the C-53 License.

  • A journeyman can perform all of the duties associated with his or her trade.

The CSLB will want to see four full-time years over the last ten years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be four years in total. 

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-53 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-53 License Holder
  • Fellow employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman
  • Union Representative

Filling out the C-53 License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your knowledge and skillset.

The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted. For example: 

“Ted built our swimming pool” will not be descriptive enough for the CSLB

 The CSLB will want to see:

"Ted has installed pools, spas, hot tubs, he has done plumbing, tile work, electrical wiring and also poured concrete, done excavation, and steel placement"

Work experience for the Contractor License

A full hot tub with a wooden exterior and green interior

You must be prepared to submit documentation supporting the experience you claim to have. The Contractors State License Board gives you a few ways that you can prove your experience.

  • Tax Returns
  • Check Stubs
  • Contracts
  • Material Order Invoices or Receipts

The CSLB  receives thousands of applications per month so there is a good chance they won’t document your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit something. 

The CSLB does not accept pictures of projects.

Application Processing, Fees and Criminal History

The time it takes to get your application processed and assigned a test date fluctuates throughout the year.

Typically you can expect:

  • 6-8 Week Application Processing Time
  • 3-4 Week wait for an Exam date

I have seen some situations where applicants got their test date sooner and some where they got their test date much later.

The most common reasons your application would get held up are:

  1. Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays) 
  2. Criminal History 
  3. Proving Experience
  4. Mistakes on your application 

Application Costs for the C-53 License

The Current CSLB fees are: 

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

a wooden gavel, laying on top of a wooden platform. Swimming pool contractors applying for the C-53 license should be honest on their applications if they have a criminal record, because the CSLB will see everything when you submit fingerprinting

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting a C-53 License. I have personally helped guys with all types of criminal records obtain multiple licenses.

The key is to be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged.

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything anyway when you do fingerprinting. The CSLB handles criminal records on a case by case basis.

Remember, their responsibility is to protect the public. In my experience, they primarily concerned with criminal charges associated with: Fraud, Embezzlement and Forgery.

The C-53 License Exam

The exam will be:

  • 115 Questions on Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions on Swimming Pools
  • You will have 3 hours to complete each portion
  • The exam is multiple choice and is taken on a computer
  • Closed Book

The Swimming Pool (C-53 license) Examination is divided into eight major sections:

1.    Planning and Estimation (28%)

  • Planning
  • Estimating

2.    Swimming Pool/Spa Shell Construction (31%)

  • Permitting
  • Rough plumbing and electrical
  • Site preparation and excavation
  • Steel placement and bonding
  • Gunite/shotcrete placement and curing

3.    Pool/Spa Systems Installation (10%)

  • Plumbing
  • Electrical
  • Equipment installation
  • Solar thermal/photovoltaic

4.    Non-Concrete Pools/Spas and Extra Pool/Spa Features (3%)

  • Fiberglass, vinyl, metal
  • Pool covers
  • Water features
  • Pool/spa accessories

5.    Pool/Spa Shell Finishing (8%)

  • Interior finish and startup
  • Tile and coping
  • Decking

6.    Commercial Swimming Pools/Spas (3%)

  • Title 22 and other code requirements
  • Disabled access features

7. Pool/Spa Repair, Renovation, Removal, and Maintenance (7%)

  •  Water loss and discoloration
  •  Structural modifications
  •  Equipment and systems

8. Safety (10%)

        •  Swimming pool/spa safety

        •  Job site safety

Recommended Resources

CSLB Test Locations

Currently there are CSLB test locations in the following cities:

  • Berkeley
  • Fresno
  • Norwalk
  • San Jose
  • Oxnard
  • Sacramento
  • San Bernardino
  • San Diego

You will be assigned a testing location based on the city you live in. Learn more about Contractor License LAW.

The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations.

You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ($60 per retake) A 70% score will be required to pass.

C-53 License Study Guides and practice tests

A glistening blue swimming pool with a hot tub above, there is lots of vegetation and greenery surrounding the pool
  • The questions you will see on the exam may use outdated terms
  • Processes may be completely different from how things are done on the job site
  • You will see questions about things you may have never done before
  • Questions will be presented to you as if you are running a large scale construction business with several employees and jobs happening all at once. 
  • Know all aspects of your trade
  • Some things to remember:

      Getting your swimming pool contractor license can be a smooth process if you have the right information. 

      Be as prepared as you possibly can. Studying just 10 mintues a day consistently can dramatically increase your chances of passing the test on your first try.

      Focus on and study ONLY the information that you need to pass the C-53 License exam

    Construction Apprenticeship

    Blue tile that is used on swimming pools

    Swimming pool construction is a multi-million dollar industry and highly skilled contractors are always in demand. Whether you are completely new or have some experience already, there are resources available to you.  

    Generally someone looking to become a plastering contractor would want to look into an apprenticeship  or find a skilled tradesman to learn under. 

    For a detailed explanation on this process, check out my article: Apprentice vs Journeyman

    EPA Certification

    Logo for the United States environmental protection agency. While there is no handyman license, there are a variety of certifications offered by the EPA that are available.

    Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when altering structures built before 1978 is required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The most profitable swimming pool contractors are ones that position themselves as the experts and are the most knowledgable and helpful to their clients. 

    Becoming EPA Certified can help you expand your business and can be completed in a one day 8 hour course.

    Staying EPA compliant is not only important to the survival of your business but also the safety of your customers.  

    Learn how to get an EPA Certification, in 8 hours!


    Getting the C-53 License can be a huge step up in your career if you are looking to start your own company, advertise your services, or become an RMO

    The key is to take action and follow these steps from beginning to end. 

    If you have found this article helpful feel free to drop a comment below and be sure to check back for updates!

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