Washington State Boaters Licensing

A common misconception is that Washington State requires recreational boaters to have a license.  This is not accurate, what is required is that boaters have successfully taken an approved Boaters Education Class and gotten a Washington State Boaters Education Card.  The Education requirement phases in over several years, in 2011 those 35 years old and younger must have a Boaters Ed. Card if they operate a motor powered vessel of 15 horsepower or more.  The age requirement phase’s in until 2014 when everyone born on or after January 1, 1955 must have a Boaters Education Card.  Once the state issues you a card it is good for life, there is no retesting or currency requirements (a certain number of days on the water each year).

Why should I take a Boating Safety Class is a common question I am ask as a boating Safety Instructor in Washington State.  After all, if you were born before January 1, 1955 a class is not required, also not required if you are just along for the ride.  Why should I take a class if I don’t need to?  If you know how to be a safe boater you can help on any boat that you are on and many times accidents have been prevented when guests saw something and brought it to the attention of the operator in time to avoid and accident.  I have also known people that were invited to go boating because they are known as a safe and helpful boater.

Why does Washington State have the Boaters Ed. requirement?  Many boats are operated by inexperienced boaters that have little experience and no concept of the rules of the road or why a lookout is needed at all times you are underway.  Our state has a relatively high accident rate and the education requirement is an attempt to make our waters safer for everyone that spends time on the water.  The Washington State Boaters Education Card is also recognized by other states, so it you go to another state that requires a card you automatically meet their requirement.

I always recommend that ALL boaters take a Safe Boating  Class and also they take the class in the classroom and not on the internet or just an online test.  In a classroom there is interaction with the instructor and other students.  You have a chance to ask questions to clarify areas that you might have questions about.  The student next to you might ask that question that you thought was too basic or dumb to ask.   You have the chance also to ask the instructors additional questions at the breaks.   I regularly have  students that have been boating for 15 or more years  tell me they learned a lot in the class.

Many of the instructors in the Coast Guard Auxiliary have been boating for many years and all receive extra training to be an instructor and training in boating safety .  Many instructors are also Crew or Coxswain qualified which means they have received additional training in Boating Safety, advanced boating skills, boat handing and on the water safety and skills.

Many families are now taking the class together.  The kids need the class and they drag their parents with them.  Many parents are now require their kids to take a class before they can drive the boat.  This family togetherness has had a downside when the kids do better on the final than dad or when Junior sleeps through the class and bombs the final.

The secret to doing well in the class? get a good nights sleep the night before, stay awake, pay attention to the material and the instructor, ask if there is something you don’t understand.  The material in the basic 8 hour Boating Safety Class is fairly basic but it does cover a lot of material so you do need to pay attention.  When the class is over, don’t pack your notes and book away, get the text out and go through it and review areas that were a bit difficult for you or to review things you saw on the water the next time you go boating.

Who should you take a class from?  I am a bit biased here and always recommend the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary as I think we have some great instructors, many of whom have additional training in boating safety.  More specifically I like to have people take classes that I help teach, I tell people that you get a discount if you mention my name (rebate of the instructor pay) but since our instructors are not paid it is the thought that counts, or that is what my mom said when Great Aunt Ethel gave us a handmade whatever for Christmas.

I would like people to take classes from the Auxiliary because I am a member of the Auxiliary.  I have friends that have taken classes from other groups and liked them, so the important thing is to TAKE A CLASS!! If there is not a class in your area many Flotillas will come to your area if you have a place the class can be held and enough students.  If you are a member of a service group, church, the company you work for or other group many Flotillas will again come to your place and hold a class.

Three easy steps to boating safety:

Take a Safe Boating Class

Have a Designated Sober Driver

Wear Your Lifejacket

Course finder for the Coast Guard Auxiliary, feed in your zip code to see the classes close to you.

Click here for more information on Boaters Ed. Classes offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary in the Pacific Northwest.

Click here for Washington State Parks and Recreational Department and State Boating Information.

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This entry was posted in Aux Activities, Safety Thoughts B, Sailing and Boating Skills and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Washington State Boaters Licensing

  1. ben says:

    I know you mean well but, really? Another test dumbed down so far that anyone with a pulse could pass it? And what does age have to do with it? So, if you retire and buy a boat (from my experience, generally an enormous motor boat with 10 feet of chain, a 1lb anchor and a genset that runs all night) that’s OK because, presumably, being old means you understand red-right-returning, how to read charts, etc.?

    This whole thing seems like it’s going to just waste a ton of peoples time. create more red tape, and only help those who are pretty close to hopeless anyway.

    • captnmike says:

      The age thing has nothing to do with assumed smarts but I am told was part of the ugly part of getting the law passed.

      When the CG Aux. first came out with the 8 hour class that met the minimum State Education Requirements there was great resistance by many to teaching the short class because many instructors felt that the short class did not cover what they thought a boater should know, and that the standard BS&S class that runs 35 to 40 hours should be the one the public took.

      Yes the hopeless people will remain hopeless and there are some boaters that will have one day experience time after time and will never really learn much. I have sailed with some, truly a terrifying day, one time I actually kissed the dock when we got back to celebrate I was still alive.

      Not everyone passes the test. All the instructors I work with spend extra time on Aids to Navigation and Rules of the Road in an attempt to have the students remember important concepts about not hitting the other boat.

      I personally don’t like to be told that I must take a class for a recreational activity, however I believe any boat owner that does not educate themselves when they get a boat is guilty of negligent operation. When I started boating as just crew I took several classes so I could understand what was required for safe and proper boating operation.

  2. Capt Jack says:

    come on mike, this is a bunch of word parsing baloney! you are required to take a class, obtain a ‘card’, which you MUST carry when operating a boat. you think that doesn’t add up to a ‘license’?!?
    while the test covers really basic knowledge that everyone should know, i am really skeptical that in the long run it is going to change safety results, and i don’t think there is any real proof that it will. in the meantime, there is definitely proof of this: the license costs money, and if you don’t carry it, you will be fined — that is already happening. this is just silly revenue generation for the state, disguised as safety.

    • captnmike says:

      The difference that many make is – A license can be revoked – The Boaters Ed Card is good forever.

      Yes very basic knowledge is all that is required, I would argue that if it was a true License then the test should be more difficult.

      The sad thing is that there are many people that no matter what is done and how many classes and tests they take they will never be safe on the water. I have many friends that have had near accidents because the other boater did not know what they were doing or not paying attention, I think I had 5 close calls this last year when the other boater made unsafe decisions that forced me to take evasive action to avoid them, in one case we came within a boat length of a powerboat that should have given way to us and still were completely unaware of our presence, two other cases were sailboats that did not look behind their sails.

      • Capt Wade says:

        I have some word parsing for ya…Capt Mike is right by default. De fault of de idiots who are careless boaters, or who just don’t know they are making a mistake until it’s too late. I owed a marine towing company in San Francisco Bay while my wife and daughter were stationed in the Coast Guard there. ( I was in the Nav) Many times I had to go tow some guy who ran into the shallows because he couldn’t or just didn’t read a chart, misunderstood his GPS, or wasn’t paying attention. I have seen them hit unlit buoys at night, and seen them turn across the path of fast moving ferries doing 40 kts and swamp out in the trough that followed IF they were lucky enough not to capsize. Teenagers zipping around on pwc’s, hitting something and getting hurt. Mostly, it’s just a question of, they didn’t realise that it was a mistake. Now, it’s kinda hard to get someone to take a course unless you make it a rule, a law, or a requirement, so, they did just that. After the teens 17 and under were required to take a pwc safety class, we saw a 95% drop in teen-related pwc accidents. 95% is pretty good out here in the Delta. (as per Rio Vista Coast Guard SAR statistics) With 1500 miles of waterways to cover, these guys had their hands full all summer. The fact is, safety classes save lives. I feel safer knowing that the other guy has had the class, and isn’t going to run over my family with his ski boat because he doesn’t know which way to give way. besides, the class is fun, and my kids loved it. My youngest daughter scored one point better than me, and hasn’t let me forget it…lol. I have been on the water for years, been to many marine related classes from navigation, environmental emergency management, and disabled vessel recovery to survival at sea, even how to ditch a disabled aircraft in water, and I still learned new things that are helpful.
        You are never to old to learn. You might be too stubborn….
        They should have a class for that.


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