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Boating regulations in Washington state Sheriff's boat

Boating Basics

Know the Law
To ensure your safety on the water as well as others’, it is important that boaters be familiar with state laws related to vessel operation. Take the time to learn the regulations related to vessel length and capacity, proper fueling, and how to secure a boat to a trailer. Learn the right way to launch a boat into the water and familiarize yourself with the navigational rules and steps for handling bad weather and boating emergencies. Prepare a “float plan” – one that includes your contact information and the logistical details of your route. Remember to leave the plan with family or friends as well as the marina. The complete state law related to safety, education, navigation, emergencies, and much more may be viewed on the state legislature’s Web site.

Registering your Vessel
Register your boat with the Washington State Department of Licensing. To navigate, operate, employ, or moor your vessel in Washington, you must have a Washington title, registration card, and registration decals, except:

  • If your vessel is a canoe, kayak, or a vessel not propelled by a motor or sail.
  • If your vessel is less than 16 feet in length and has a motor of 10 horsepower or less and is used on non-federal waters only.
  • If your vessel is properly registered by a resident of another state or country who uses Washington waters for 60 days or fewer.

The registration card (the cutout portion of the Vessel Registration Certificate) must be onboard whenever you use your vessel.

Operator Age and Boating Education Requirements

  • Anyone 12 years old and older may operate a motorboat of 15 hp and greater if they carry a Washington Boater Education Card.

  • Boater education card
  • If they do not have a card, they must be under the supervision of someone at least 16 years old, who is carrying a Boater Education Card.

  • Anyone born before January 1, 1955 is exempt from needing to carry a Boater Education Card.

  • You must be at least 14 years old to operate a personal watercraft. Remember, it is illegal to lease, hire, or rent a personal watercraft to anyone under 16 years old.

  • Counties and cities may have further restrictions so remember to check in with them before heading out on the water.

Navigating on Washington Waters
Safe navigation is the responsibility of all boaters. Even though no vessel will have absolute right-of-way over other boats, there are rules that every operator should know and follow. To avoid collisions on the water, boaters should follow three basic rules: (1) Practice good seamanship; (2) maintain a safe speed and distance; and (3) keep a sharp lookout. Learn more specifics related to safe navigation by reading the online comprehensive boating handbook Adventures in Boating Washington Handbook. Another excellent resource is the U.S. Coast Guard's Navigation Center.

Prevent Pollution
Spilling oil or a hazardous substance to state waters is illegal. Polluters can be fined up to $10,000 per violation or $100,000 for each day the oil poses a risk to the environment, or even more if the spill was intentional. Visit www.ecy.wa.gov/CleanGreenBoating at Washington Department of Ecology’s Web site to learn more.