When boating in open water such as lakes, rivers, ponds, Puget Sound, and the ocean — YOU CAN NEVER BE TOTALLY SAFE, BUT YOU CAN BE BETTER PREPARED.
Completing the mandatory boating education required to safely operate a recreational boat in open water can save your life and potentially those of others.
Open water is unpredictable, and conditions can change in a matter of seconds!
Some conditions to be aware of include:
Whether you cruise, sail, kayak, fish, or do yoga on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), you are responsible to know the laws and basics of boating safety.
After successfully completing a boating safety course, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission requires the purchase of a $10 Boater Education Card. These may be purchased by submitting a Washington State Parks & Recreation Boating Commission Boater Education Card Application (including copy of your completed boating safety course certificate).
Your Boater Education Card will be mailed within 3-4 weeks. It is valid for your lifetime and meets requirements for recreational boating in Canada and many other states.
Source: BoatUS Foundation
For more helpful information, checkout the Washington State Parks’ Adventures in Boating Washington Handbook including laws on:
State law requires all vessels (including canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards) to carry at least (1) properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket (also known as a personal flotation device or PFD) FOR EACH PERSON ABOARD A VESSEL.
Life jackets (PFDs) are one of the single most effective pieces of safety gear on a boat. Study after study show that if you wear your life jacket, you’re more likely to survive if something goes wrong.
Boating and paddling is often a fun activity, but it’s not without any risks. In Washington, many of our waterways are cold year-round. People that drown are often victims of cold-water shock. Anyone can drown regardless of age and swimming capabilities. Protect yourself by always wearing a life jacket.
Many people assume merely having life jackets onboard is sufficient. However, accidents happen rapidly and without warning. Usually, there is not enough time to grab a life jacket, so they should always be worn!
A life jacket only works if you WEAR IT.
KNOW THE LAWS >>
In 2021, alcohol was the #1 known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, accounting for 86 deaths.
In Washington state, alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in 17% of boating fatalities in the state. There are penalties for operating a boat under the influence (BUI):
Learn more about Washington state boating laws & regulations >>
A boater who is involved in an accident MUST STOP their vessel immediately at the scene of the accident and assist injured people or anyone in danger, unless doing so would endanger his or her own vessel or passengers. In some circumstances, the boater operating the vessel must submit a written accident report.
Accident report forms are available from Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and local law enforcement marine units.
Washington State law requires the operator of a recreational vessel involved in an accident to file a Washington Boat Accident Report (PDF) when:
If there is an injury, disappearance or death, a report must be submitted within 48 hours. Reports in other accidents must be submitted within 10 days. If the operator cannot submit the report, the owner of the vessel is responsible.
Reports must be submitted to the law enforcement agency (PDF) that has jurisdiction where the accident occurred. If you are not sure what agency has the authority, contact the Washington State Boating Program by email or call (360) 902-8555.
The report is confidential and will only be used by government agencies for statistical purposes. Failure of an operator to submit a report can result in a fine.
To navigate, operate, employ, or moor your vessel in the state of Washington, you must have a Washington title, registration card, and registration decals, except when your vessel is:
REMEMBER: Your registration card (the cutout portion of the Vessel Registration Certificate) must be onboard whenever you use your vessel.
Source: Washington State Legislature, Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, State Law Dashboards – NASBLA, Washington State Parks Boating Program
The answer is simple… there are just too many facts that need to be accurately remembered and ultimately conveyed in an emergency situation!
Without a Float Plan, you are counting on someone else, a friend, neighbor, or family member to remember detailed information that rescue personnel need to find you – important information that can make a difference in the outcome.
Typically, the Boat Operator is the individual who prepares the Float Plan. However, all persons onboard should be aware of the importance of letting someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Don’t be afraid to ask the operator if they have left a Float Plan with a reliable person.
It is also recommended that you include a recent photo of your vessel.
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 guide on How to Choose the Right Life Jacket >>
Boating in cold weather can be exhilarating, but it also puts you at risk of falling into dangerously cold waters. Even boating in warm weather can be dangerous if the water is much colder than the air.
Cold Water Immersion is almost always the result of a capsize or swamping of, or falling overboard from, a boat under 26 feet. In each distinct phase, a person (without a life jacket) faces a MUCH HIGHER risk of drowning in cold water.
Once a victim’s shivering stops, their core body temperature begins to critically drop. Follow these steps to prevent a victim’s body from cooling:
REMEMBER TO NEVER:
If you go out boating and don’t have a life jacket (PFD) – or find that yours doesn’t properly fit – you can use this NEW interactive map to locate a Life Jacket Loaner Station!
Participating marinas, boat ramps, paddle craft launch sites and Washington State Parks are now equipped with infant, child, youth and adult-size life jackets (PFDs) for recreational boaters to borrow—at no charge.
When finished, simply return the borrowed life jackets (PFDs) to the same station where they were borrowed.
The Washington State Parks Boating Program, in partnership with the Washington Drowning Prevention Network, can help you to provide life jackets (PFDs) to the public through a FREE statewide Life Jacket Loaner Station program.
The goal of this program is to increase the use of life jackets (PFDs) and to educate recreational boaters about the importance of wearing a properly fitted life jacket. Each host will receive signage with fitting instructions (in English and Spanish) that should be prominently displayed at their Life Jacket Loaner Station.
Apply today! >>
Recreational boating is a popular pastime in Washington state — just ask any of the several hundred thousand residents who own at least one canoe, kayak, rowboat, personal watercraft, stand up paddle board, drift boat, runabout, sailboat, motor yacht or some other type of recreational vessel. Boats and boaters are everywhere!
Boating, however, isn’t without its risks. The chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest can be an unforgiving environment, and safety must be on the minds of everyone who plays in and around it.
Real boaters always #WEARIT.
Be an example and save lives!
Recreational boating and water activities are enjoyed by millions of Americans each year. Boating safety advocates recommend all boaters and passengers not only have a life jacket – but wear it at all times while boating!
Regardless of your age or experience level, LIFE JACKETS SAVE LIVES!
Locate your state’s boating law administrator and other contacts involved in boating safety education, law enforcement, numbering and titling, and other boating program safety.
Public Health – Seattle & king County has created a Lifeguard Resource Guide to help you find nearby public beaches equipped with lifeguards and life jackets. Find a beach near you >>
Use this coupon at any Big 5 Sporting Goods store location in Washington state towards a one-time purchase of an in-stock life jacket (now through September 30, 2023).
Learn how to Prevent or Take Action in a Drowning Incident by using the Chain of Drowning Survival (available in English and Spanish)
Have fun and be safe using these resources when swimming, wearing life jackets and addressing other water safety measures in and around your home.
Trainees for Child Injury Prevention (TC4IP) share tips on how to protect your natural hair (while swimming).
Washington State Parks has an active map for their Life jacket Loaner Program as well on their website.
ALERT: Some life jacket loaner stands may be closed due to the staffing issues and COVID-19 pandemic.
All nations benefit from a simple, clear Drowning Chain of Survival. In high income nations, this tool will refine prevention and the call for action. In low and middle income nations, this tool is a guide for policymaking, resource allocation and priority setting in drowning prevention.
Prevent Child Injury addresses the increased risk of drowning among teenagers who swim in open water and encourages parents and caregivers to talk to their teens about making safe and smart decisions when swimming in open water.
Seattle Children’s and the WA DPN work together to provide information and resources on drowning prevention and water safety. Fill out this email list request form to join the WA DPN, which provides a forum for water safety and injury prevention organizations in Washington state to work together to prevent drowning.
Drowning can happen to any family. It’s quick, and it’s silent. Learn more on how to prevent and keep children safe with the American Academy of Pediatric’s NEW Drowning Prevention Toolkit.
Sign-up today! In addition to covering the costs of your Lifeguard Certification, HIPRC will also work with community partners to help you find job opportunities as a lifeguard.
To certify: You MUST be 15 years-old by the final day of the FREE Lifeguard Training.
Learn more about drowning prevention with these Water Safety Resources >>
Check out Recreate Responsibly’s updated Water Safety Edition, A Guide on How to Recreate Responsibly In or Near Water. Enjoying time outside includes being water-safe. Know your own limits, as even confident and strong swimmers can get into trouble.
Check out Paddle Wise’s Responsibility Code for River Runners – Be your best self on the water and help protect, restore and maintain access to our rivers! Download this FREE Toolkit to help spread the word on how we can share our rivers responsibly.
How to Prevent or Take Action in a Drowning Incident – (Click to view)
WHO Executive Board recommends that World Health Assembly adopt its resolution on drowning – (Click to view)
Sign up today >> FREE Student Lifeguard Training – (PDF)
Five life-saving steps to follow in or near water – Coming soon!
Shining a Light on Youth Drowning Prevention – (Click to view)