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Campfire Collective May 7th, 2017

Washington Boating Laws and Regulations

Tree overlooking lake with blue water in British Columbia.


A Washington Boater Education Card is NOT the same thing as a Washington driver’s licence. The Washington Boater Education Card, more commonly known as a “boating license” is a card that proves that you have taken a boater safety course and gained the boating skill needed to operate a boat safely on Washington’s waterways. All of Washington’s boaters born after January 1st, 1955 are required to have a Boater Education Card in order to legally operate a boat on state waters. Boater education is required if you are operating a motorized vessel with a 15 (or greater) horsepower motor. You must be 12 years of age or older.


You are exempt if you fit the following criteria:

  • You were born before Jan. 1, 1955.
  • You are an operator of a commercial fishing boat and able to show a valid commercial license.
  • You are able to show a valid U.S. Coast Guard Marine Operator License.
  • You are renting a boat, have completed a watercraft safety checklist provided by the vendor and been issued a temporary card which you must carry with you.
  • You operate a government vessel exempt from state registration.
  • You are practicing or engaging in a permitted racing event, as long as permitting documentation is available upon inspection at the event site.

You have a 60-day exemption period if you fit the following criteria:

  • You are visiting from another state or country and boating for less than 60 days. After 60 days you must have a Washington state Boater Education Card.
  • You hold a valid boater education card from another state. You will need to contact us to confirm if it’s valid.
  • You have recently purchased your boat and can show the bill of sale with the date of purchase. After 60 days you must have a Washington state Boater Education Card.


By taking the online BOATsmart! Course right here! You can register today, take the Washington Boating Safety Course, pass the Official Online Test and you can be on the water in just a few hours.

Get your Official Washington
Boating License

The Official NASBLA and Washington State-Approved Boating Course, Test & License.

Get your Official Washington
Boating License

The Official NASBLA and Washington State-Approved Boating Course, Test & License.


All boats operating on Washington’s waters (including human-powered paddle craft such as kayaks and inflatable rafts) are required to carry one, Coast Guard Approved, wearable life jacket or PFD for each passenger on board the boat. Adults are not required to wear life jackets when boating. However, our suggestion is to always WEAR IT Washington! Especially if you’re boating in remote, white water or cold water areas.

Additionally, boats greater than 16 feet in length are also required to carry one, Coast Guard Approved, Type IV (throwable) device on board the boat at all times.

In the state of Washington, children 12 years of age and under are required to wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket when underway on any boat under 19 feet in length, unless the the child is in a fully enclosed area, such as a cabin. Parents, make sure your child’s life jacket is properly secured and in good condition. It’s the law for kids to WEAR IT!


It’s illegal in Washington to operate any boat (including any type of paddle craft) while under the influence of an intoxicating substance, such as drugs and/or alcohol.

In Washington, a boat operator will be considered to be under the influence if, within 2 hours of operating a boat, they have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 or higher, or if they exceed the legal limit for boating under the influence of marijuana of 5.0 nanograms, or if they are affected by an intoxicating substance, such as alcohol and/or drugs.

In Washington, a person convicted of operating under the influence will be guilty of a gross misdemeanor. This is a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment for up to 364 days.


If you’ve been involved in a boat accident in Washington, you’ll be required to submit a Boat Accident Report to the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in the area where the accident happened.

If a boat passenger is injured and required medical treatment beyond first aid, if a person is killed or if a person has disappeared from the boat, you must submit the formal Washington Boat Accident Report within 48 hours of the occurrence. Under any other circumstances, the boating accident report must be submitted within 10 days. Stay safe out there boaters!

You can obtain an official Washington Boat Accident Report Form from the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission or from the local law enforcement in the area where the accident happened.


The BOATsmart! Washington Boating License Course has been approved by Washington State Parks. For more information, you can contact Washington State Parks at:

Washington State Parks
P.O. Box 42650
Olympia, WA 98504
(360) 902-8555

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