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Boating regulations in Washington state Sheriff's boat

Boating Basics

Know the Law
To ensure your and others' safety on the water, get to know the state regulations for operating your boat. Check out the Adventures in Boating Washington Handbook to learn about 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, steps for handling bad weather and boating emergencies, and so much more.

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

Safer Paddling Video Series 
Improve your paddle sports safety with these expert tips from American Canoe Association-certified instructors Kate Ross Kuthe and Paul Kuthe. The Safer Paddling Video Series shares safety, skills, and gear tips you can use for kayaking, canoeing, or other paddle sports.

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.
  3. Keep a sharp lookout.

Remember, it's illegal to obstruct navigation by

  • Anchoring in the traveled part of a river or channel so that other vessels are interferred with or prevented from passing through.
  • Operating any vessel in a way that it will interfere with the safe navigation of other vessels
  • Mooring or attaching to a buoy (other than a mooring buoy), beacon, light, or any other navigational aid placed by authorities on public waters
  • Moving, displacing, tampering with, damaging, or destroying any navigational aid
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.