Legislation created the boating program in 1983 and made Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission responsible for administering the program. The boating program ensures boating laws and regulations are enforced on all of Washington's waterways, provides recreational boating safety education and information as well as conveniently located boater septic pump-out facilities.
Funding for these programs comes from grants, registration fees and fuel taxes paid for by boaters. All boater paid fees go back to the boaters in the form of boating access facilities, boating safety education and law enforcement.
The State Parks Boating Program encourages you to have fun as you head out on the water and be smart. There's a lot to learn and we're here to help you! Explore the website, if you don't find what you need feel free to contact us at (360) 902-8555 or email.
The following actions are known to be the top reasons for fatalities and accidents on the water.
Failure to WEAR life jackets, especially in small boats
Boating under the influence of alcohol and drugs
Failure to follow navigation "rules of the road"
Operator inexperience, inattention, unsafe speeds and improper lookout
Inability to call for rescue when an accident happens
U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) created a mobile app for recreational boaters. The app features an Emergency Assistance button which, with locations services enabled, will call the nearest USCG command center.
Don't be fooled by warm air temperatures because in Washington many waterways are below 60 degrees. Even lakes and rivers. Water under 60 degrees can kill you if you fall in it unexpectedly. It's not hypothermia you need to worry about. If you survive long enough to get hypothermia, you've done well; most drown in the first few minutes fromcold water shock.You need to take caution and be prepared. Especially if you're in a boat under 21 feet (kayak, canoe, fishing boat, etc.). Small boats have a higher risk of capsizing.
Being prepared for accidental immersion in cold water means you wear your life jacket and dress for water immersion.
Since water is approximately 25 times more efficient than air at drawing heat away from your body, you need protective apparel to prevent excessive heat loss. Start with a moisture-wicking layer next to the skin. Synthetic fabrics such as nylon, polyester and polypropylene don’t absorb water and move moisture from your skin to outer layers. Merino wool wicks moisture and is comfortable against the skin, unlike traditional wool. Do not wear cotton—it is comfortable but absorbs water, dries slowly and loses its insulating value when wet.
You can find water temperature information on the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Association website.
Checking the weather forecast is critical to smart boating practices. Certain conditions make boating extremely hazardous. There are five vital checks you need to do before you head out.
WARNINGS, such as storms, are the highest priority forecasts. They indicate potentially dangerous wind conditions. Winds of more than 21 knots mean rough conditions for small boats.
WEATHER conditions are important. Take note of forecasts indicating reduced visibility or risks to safety and comfort from thunderstorms, lightning or squalls.
WIND forecasts are the average wind speed in knots; however, gusts can be up to 40 percent stronger. Plan a trip for best conditions; look at trends in wind speeds and shifts in wind directions over the day. High winds usually mean choppy waters.
WAVE forecasts are average wave heights; be prepared for waves of twice the average heights. While out on the water, boaters should note swell and wave conditions and how their boat reacts.
TIDES and CURRENTS are just as vital to check as weather. Obstructions may be hidden at high tide and then become exposed and hazardous at low tide. Knowing tide times is important for paddlecrafts and boats entering and exiting river entrances or crossing the bar.
You should check the weather forecast before you go out—every time—and understand the five vital checks. Checking weather apps on a smartphone or the internet doesn't count! Unless it's a marine weather app or includes all five vital check. When in doubt, don't go out.
In addition to the five vital checks, you should note the following tips.
When heading out on coastal waterways such as the ocean, bays, harbors, inlets and major rivers that lead into seas, always check the marine weather forecast.
Weather can change! Always keep an eye on the weather. It can change suddenly and without warning, catching you off guard and creating life-threatening situations. If you see storm clouds on the horizon, head to safe shelter quickly.
Minimize risk by carrying essential safety gear such emergency communications equipment, wearing a life jacket, dressing for water temperature (not air temperature), and don't boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Take a marine weather class! There are boat clubs and organizations that offer classes and online options available.
Tune into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather channel for real-time weather information. For access to local forecasts, visit NOAA’s mobile-friendly website at mobile.weather.gov.
The National Weather Service offers online weather and river information useful for trip planning at the following sites for state of Washington:
Timing and location are the most important factors for a Search and Rescue operation to be successful.
Being rescue ready means you have emergency communications equipment on board. We recommend carrying two forms of communication that will work when wet. Just in case one malfunctions.
Communications equipment varies from simple to complex. The most common include visual distress signals, VHF radios, distress beacons and cell phones. You should research your options and make sure you choose appropriately for the type of boating activity.
Learn more about the most common forms of equipment by reading our fact sheet.
Equipment required by law
Federally regulated waterways (coastal and open bodies of water two miles or more in width) require the following.
All boats are required to carry a sounding device at all times (horn, bell or whistle).
Boats less than 16 feet, operating between sunset and sunrise, are required to carry
One electric S.O.S. distress light, or
A combination of three day/night flares.
Boats morethan 16 feet, operating at any time, are required to carry one of the following
A combination of three day/night flares, or
One orange distress flag, or
One electric S.O.S. distress light, or
Three orange smoke signals and one electric S.O.S. distress light.
State regulated waterways only require you to carry a sounding device; this applies to all boat sizes at all times.
Operating any kind of boat—including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards—under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal and unsafe. It puts you and the rest of the people on the water in danger. Being alcohol-free is the safest way to enjoy the water, but whenever a boating excursion involves alcohol you need to make plans for a sober skipper to operate the boat.
Remember the following tips.
Prior to getting on the boat, designate a qualified skipper.
Make sure that person knows how to operate the boat being used for the day.The designated skipper must operate the vessel in a safe and prudent manner, and exercise reasonable care for his/her passengers. He/she has an obligation to keep all passengers safe.
If you trailer your boat, the designated skipper should also be the designated driver of the vehicle used to tow the boat.
Bring water and other non-alcoholic beverages to keep everyone hydrated and make sure passengers are wearing properly fitted life jackets.
State and local law enforcement agencies are joining forces this summer to conduct boating under the influence (BUI) emphasis patrols on waterways across Washington, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Under the state BUI law, if a law enforcement officer suspects a boat operator to be intoxicated, he or she can require a breath or blood test.
The state’s legal alcohol limit is .08 and for marijuana it’s 5.00 nanograms.
Refusing to take a breath test is a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $2,050.
If found guilty of operating a boat under the influence, the penalty is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 or 364 days in jail.
A BUI is considered a prior offense for later DUI convictions.
Accidents happen fast and without warning, usually faster than you can find and put on your life jacket.
Life jackets are the single most effective piece of safety gear in a boat. Anyone can drown regardless of age and swimming capabilities. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that 76% of boating fatalities are due to drowning and 85% of those victims were not wearing a life jacket. Study after study show that if you wear your life jacket, you are more likely to survive if something goes wrong.
Shop around to find a comfortable life jacket you'll actually use. Here's a coupon, good until 9/30/17, for 25% off a life jacket! You can also borrow one from a loaner station.
Seriously,wear itso you and your family can continue to enjoy Washington's waterways for a lifetime.
Required by law
State law requires all boats and paddlecrafts (that includes stand-up paddle boards) to have at least one properly fitted, serviceable, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (also known as Personal Flotation Device or PFD) for each person on board.
In addition, the following requirements apply.
One Coast Guard-approved, Type IV (throwable) flotation device must on board vessels 16 feet or longer. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from this requirement.
Children under 13 years of age must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times when underway in a boat less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.
Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC or jet ski) and anyone being towed behind a boat must wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
City and county jurisdictions may have additional ordinances, so check with local police or sheriff's departments.
Do you kayak, canoe or use a stand-up paddleboard? Then you're taking part in the rising popularity of paddlesports. While many paddlecraft are easy to use without a lot of training, the waterways you go in may be challenging. We recommend taking an education course to help with technique and confidence to enhance your experience. Paddlecrafts have a high risk of capsizing so it's important to know your limits, have the right gear and know how to use it.
Regardless of the type of waterway, the following recommendations will help improve safety and reduce the chance of an accident.
Always wear a properly fitted life jacket that is in good condition.
Learn what to do if the paddlecraft tips over. Practice capsizing in a safe place where others are around to assist if needed.
Pick an activity level that matches your ability and gear. Skill levels should be suitable for the water and weather conditions before getting underway.
Never go out on the water while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Check your prescription and non-prescription drugs for any side effects that could impede the ability to be alert.
Always check the weather—and know that it can change rapidly. Check currents and tides too. Paddling back against the current or tide is exhausting and you could get stuck.
Be visible and wear brightly colored clothes. Paddlecraft are not easily seen from larger boats.