Washington state's diverse waterways of rivers, lakes, bays, inlets and coastal areas require different skills, preparation and safety equipment.
You're required by law to carry specific safety equipment. Requirements vary according to size and type of boat. The legal requirements are minimal and do not maximize your chances of being rescued in a timely manner when an accident happens. You'll need additional equipment to be rescue ready and keep everyone safe.
Plan accordingly and enjoy a lifetime of boating adventures!
Federal and Washington state law requires the following on every boat, no matter what size, including kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards.
Depending on boat length and engine type, state law requires the following:
For a specific list of requirements by boat length and type, review the Washington State required equipment checklist.
Remember, these items are basic and won't maximize your chance of survival in an accident. There's additional gear necessary to be rescue ready.
The legal requirements are minimal and do not maximize your chances of being rescued when an accident happens. You should be rescue ready at all times. That means having the right gear at the right time—and knowing how to use it.
We recommend the following equipment as essential to be rescue ready.
Remember—you need to know how to use your safety equipment! The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary,U.S. Power Squadron, local clubs and outfitters offer boating safety classes. We encourage you to educate yourself and practice safety drills so you are truly rescue ready.
The following actions are known to be the top reasons for fatalities and accidents on the water.
Many recreational boaters in Washington are required to complete an approved boating safety education course and carry a Washington State Boater Education Card. Even if carrying a card is not required, all boaters are responsible for knowing the laws (federal, state and local ordinances) and keeping themselves and others safe. Taking a boating safety course helps boaters learn foundational knowledge of boating safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. Whether you own a boat or are renting one—get educated. Passengers on a boat are encouraged to ask the captain about safety protocols, such as how to turn the boat off or make a Mayday call and where rescue equipment is located and how to use it. Learn more about boater education at www.boatered.org.
Schedule a vessel safety check
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and the United States Power Squadrons have certified vessel examiners who will perform a free “vessel safety check”. The purpose is to ensure a boat meets legal standards and has the necessary equipment for emergencies. These checks are conducted at a boat ramp, dockside or at other pre-determined locations and take 15 to 30 minutes, depending on boat size. There is no charge and no consequences for not passing. Rather, boaters are provided with a written report on how to correct any discrepancies. Boats passing the safety check receive a decal (good for the current calendar year) indicating the boat is in full compliance with federal and state boating laws. Learn more and schedule a vessel safety check by visiting www.cgaux.org/vsc/.
Always wear a life jacket
State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, to have at least one properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person onboard. The Boating Program encourages boaters to not only bring a life jacket but to wear it every time they go out. Boaters should be prepared to fall in the water at any time, especially on smaller vessels as they’re more prone to capsizing. Fortunately, life jackets are much more sophisticated and comfortable and tailored to specific water activities. Learn more about life jackets by visiting www.wearitwashington.org.
Take communication devices
Boaters should carry two forms of communication that will work when wet, such as a sound-producing device like a whistle, waterproof cell phone or marine radio. Having these forms of communication will greatly increase their chances of being located in the event of an emergency. Day and night visible flares, a signal mirror and a whistle or air horn can also aid emergency responders in their search efforts. Boaters are also encouraged to purchase, register and carry a personal locator beacon (PLB) which will instantly notify responders of their location when activated during a distress situation. It is recommended that boaters research the many options and choose appropriately for the type of boating activity.
Avoid alcohol and marijuana
Designate a sober skipper! Boat owners/operators are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on board. Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not only unsafe—it’s illegal. Washington state’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law applies to all boats including kayaks, canoes, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts. Learn more about boating sober at www.boatsober.org.
Understand weather, tides and currents
Certain conditions can make boating extremely hazardous and weather can change fast. It is a critical smart boating practice for you to check the correct weather forecast and understand what it means for your boating activity. You also need to be prepared if it changes. For example, high wind speeds usually mean choppy waves. The smaller the boat the higher the risk of capsizing. There are five vital checks you need to understand before you head out. Read our weather fact sheet to learn more. Checking weather apps on a smartphone doesn't count! Unless it's specifically a marine weather app.
Project against cold water immersion
Don't be fooled by warm air temperatures because in Washington many waterways are below 60 degrees all year. Even lakes and rivers. Water under 60 degrees is dangerous if you fall in unexpectedly. It's not hypothermia you need to worry about, there are four stages of cold water immersion. If you survive long enough to get hypothermia, you've done well; most drown at the first stage and in the first few minutes from cold water shock. Take caution and be prepared. Protect yourself by always wearing your life jacket and dress for water immersion. Especially if you're in a boat under 21 feet, like a kayak, rowboat or small fishing boat, which has a higher risk of capsizing. Learn more about cold water shock.
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.