As of this year, state law requires boat operators age 40 and younger to carry a Washington State Boater Education card. The card is needed whenever operating motorboats with 15 horsepower or more, including personal watercraft or any motorized watercraft.
To get a card, boaters must take a course that is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
Approved boater education courses can be taken in the classroom, classroom/hands-on, online or at home.
Once a course is successfully completed, the boater must submit a completed boater education card application, along with $10 and a legal copy of proof of course completion.
If a boater does not have a card, the fine is $87.
Known as the mandatory boater safety education law, it went into effect Jan. 1, 2008.
In 2013, boaters age 50 and younger will be required to have a card. In 2014, it will be people 59 and younger who must have a card. After 2014, all boat operators, unless exempted by law, must have a card.
Learn more at boat.wa.gov/safety-ed.asp.
One priority for agencies patrolling local waters is to make sure boaters are complying with life jacket regulations.
“Life jacket wearing is huge,” said Dan Shipman, recreational boating safety specialist for the U.S. Coast Guard’s 13th District, which includes the South Sound. “Most people who perish in boating accidents drown because they’re not wearing a life jacket.”
One of the problems, Shipman said, is people figuring it’s OK to merely have the jacket nearby. “But then something happens, you’re in the water and it’s too late to put one on,” he said.
Life jackets or life vests – Type I, II or III personal floatation devices – are required for every occupant of boats less than 16 feet long. State law requires children 12 years and younger to wear a life jacket at all times when under way in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.
The regulation also applies to canoes and kayaks of any length.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation’s boating program reports half of all recreational boating deaths in the state result from capsizing or falls overboard from boats smaller than 16 feet.
There were 11 boating fatalities in Washington in 2011.
New models of life jackets are far more comfortable to wear, including the inflatable styles, Shipman said.
“They’re comfortable enough now for boaters to make it part of their apparel,” he said.