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Boater Safety

Learn about required boater education, boating laws, and other safety resources.

Washington boat education requirements

Washington state law (RCW 79A.60.640) requires operators of motorboats with 15 horsepower or greater to take a boater education class and get a boater education card. You can take this class in-person, online, or at home.

  • In Washington, those born before 1955 are exempt from this rule.
  • The date in which you will need your boater card depends on your age.

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

Boating accidents

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, in 2022, there were 636 boating fatalities nationwide, 2,222 injuries and property damage totaling $63 million. The top five reasons for accidents are:

The top five reasons for accidents are:

  • Alcohol use
  • Operator inattention
  • Improper lookout
  • Operator Inexperience
  • Machinery failure

Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. The majority of fatal accidents are due to drowning, and most of those that drown are not wearing a life jacket. It is important to follow boating laws, and wear a life jacket or other type of personal floatation device (PFD).

Wear a life jacket

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.

Find local life jacket loaner program locations.

Have a sober driver

In Washington, boating under the influence (BUI) of drugs or alcohol or boating recklessly is against the law (RCW 79A.60.040). You are considered under the influence if you:

  • Are affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug
  • Have a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or above

BUI is a misdemeanor in Washington. If convicted, you can:

  • Face up to 90 days in jail
  • Receive up to $1000 in fines, plus the cost of boat impound and legal fees
  • Possibly face a civil hearing with the U.S. Coast Guard

Beyond legal costs, BUI can hurt you, your passengers, and others on the water.