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The U.S. Coast Guard reports in 2017 there were 4,291 recreational boating accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries and approximately $46 million dollars of damage to property. Compared to 2016, the number of deaths decreased 4%, and the number of injuries decreased 9%.
United States Coast Guard, Recreational Boating Statistics, 2017

Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, machinery failure, and alcohol use rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Additionally, 76% of all fatal boating incident victims drowned, and of those, 84% of those who drowned were not wearing a life jacket.

In 2017, there were 109 recreational boating accidents counted in Washington by the U.S. Coast Guard resulting in 15 deaths and 35 injured people and damages over $1.4 million dollars. There were more than 239,000 registered motorboats in the state that year.
United States Coast Guard, Recreational Boating Statistics, 2017

Washington boat education requirements

A majority of boating incidents that resulted in drowning deaths or near drownings involved boaters without boater safety education. The Washington state law (RCW 79A.60.640) requires that operators of motorboats with 15 horsepower or greater take a boater education class and obtain a boater education card. This can be done in a classroom, online or at home.

  • Those born before 1955 are exempt from this requirement (in Washington only - you will need to get a card if you boat in Canada or Oregon)
  • The date in which you will need your boater card depends on your age.

For more information, visit the Washington State Parks Mandatory Boat Education website.

Wear a life jacket!

In 2017, where cause of death was known, 76% of people drowned from recreational boating incidents in the U.S. 84% of those drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket or other type of personal floatation device (PFD).

Washington state law (RCW 79A.60.160) requires children ages 12 years and younger to wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket or vest on vessels less than 19 feet long.

Download the U.S. Coast Guard's How to Choose the Right Life Jacket guide.

Find local life jacket distribution resources and events on our Swim safety webpage.

Designate a sober driver!

Alcohol use is the primary contributing factor in fatal recreational boating accidents in the U.S. In 2017, 118 people died and 255 people were seriously injured from alcohol-related boating incidents.
United States Coast Guard, Recreational Boating Statistics, 2017

From 2013 to 2017, 22 people died in Washington and an additional 38 people were seriously injured from alcohol-related recreational boating accidents.
United States Coast Guard, Recreational Boating Statistics, 2017

In Washington, boating under the influence (BUI) of drugs or alcohol or boating recklessly is against the law (RCW 79A.60.040). A person is considered under the influence if he or she is affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug, under the combined influence of liquors and drugs, or with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or above.

BUI is a misdemeanor in Washington and if convicted you can face up to 90 days in jail, up to $1000 in fines, plus the cost of boat impound and legal fees, and you may face a civil hearing with the U.S. Coast Guard. Beyond legal costs, BUI can hurt you, your passengers, and others on the water. Please designate a sober driver on and off the water!

Boater safety resources