Avoiding the Seattle Harbor Patrol’s Attention

Seattle Water,  Boating Regulations & Information

Seattle Water, Boating Regulations & Information

Being stopped by the Harbor Patrol is one of those things very few people look forward to. To help avoid unwanted attention from the Seattle Harbor Patrol, they have produced a booklet covering Seattle area Regulations & Information for local boaters.

The FREE 19 page booklet covers things like marine speed limits in the Seattle area, anchoring (where and for how long), Bridges, Marine Ordinances (very important what not to do), Diving, Water skiing and more.

The booklet is being given out by the Seattle Harbor Patrol as well as Coast Guard Auxiliary members at some public events.


You can pick up your own copy of the booklet at the Seattle Harbor Patrol’s office. They are are located at the north end of Lake Union just west of Gasworks Park and east of the new Center for Wooden Boats building on North Northlake Place. The booklet is also available online at the Seattle Harbor Patrol’s web site and as a PDF download, click on the Boating Safety Tips link to view the booklet online.

Top Reasons for getting attention from the Harbor Patrol

Lake Union & Ship Canal Area: Exceeding the speed limit and throwing up a large wake. The residents along the Ship Canal and Lake Union work like an extended neighborhood watch system, calling the Harbor Patrol when a large wake rolls by. Many of the residents have the Harbor Patrol’s phone number on their speed dial or have a VHF radio handy.

Remember the speed limit from the outer marker at Shilshole to Webster Point is 7 knots (4 knots in the vicinity of the locks) and is a No Wake / Low Wake Zone. And yes for the legal eagles out there that point out that a boat can’t move without producing a wake, correct, however you are responsible for any damage your wake causes. Over the years there have been several accidents and injuries caused by boats producing a large wake while still under 7 knots.

Lake Washington: Distress calls and boats broken down are the largest issue on Lake Washington. Many boats are taking on water for one reason or another, all the Harbor Patrol boats carry pumps to help keep boats from sinking. Depending on the severity of the distress call the Harbor Patrol will tow a boat to the closest safe haven or call a commercial towing company to tow the boat. You should inspect your boat boat before using it, especially if it has not been used over the winter. Having a boat break down can be very expensive just to get the boat back to the dock.

A note on “closest safe haven” that is the closest safe harbor from where you broke down or committed a voyage ending infraction, not where you trip started. For instance, if you start your trip at Kirkland and you commit a voyage ending infraction in Lake Union, you will end up at a dock in Lake Union. Some voyage ending infractions are, not enough life-jackets, boat overloaded, not having proper fire extinguishers, BUI (if there is not a sober qualified operator on board), a note – this is not an exhaustive list on what can end your voyage (trip).

Boating Under the Influence (BUI): Alcohol limits for a boat are the same as the highway 0.08 BAC. But a note here. The effects of alcohol can be multiplied by the environmental factors present while boating. Warm weather, noise, sun, glare off the water from the sun, noise and the constant movement of a boat can team up to make a person much less alert than they normally would be, then add the effects of alcohol and the effects can be deadly.

Good boating good practice, is to ALWAYS have a sober qualified operator of your boat.

While an open alcohol container is allowed on a boat in Washington State, is blasting by a Harbor Patrol boat and toasting them with an open beer can a real sane idea?

Lake Union Test Course Confusion: Boaters will see a boat using the Lake Union Test Course and think that it is OK to travel at high speed on Lake Union, they will then put the hammer down and then get to meet the Harbor Patrol officers. The test course is very highly regulated and is the only area on Lake Union that permits high speed operation.

A few Lake Union Test Course Regulation Highlights: east and west travel direction only, no high speed turns, limited number of at speed runs and you are still responsible for your wake. While large vessels are not prohibited by statute from operating in the test area at high speed, a large vessel (over 25 feet or so) will throw up a very large wake that can cause serious damage to other vessels or houseboats along the shore. Large wakes have caused gas and power lines on houseboats to break, so operating large vessels at high speed is a very bad idea.

Note also that the Harbor Patrol office windows look out over the Lake Union Test Area, so any unwise actions can easily be seen by the Harbor Patrol who can then come out and have a chat with you.

More information on the legal requirements for your boat, in case you are boarded by the Coast Guard or Harbor Patrol.

Thanks to the Seattle Harbor Patrol for helping with this article.

Seattle Harbor Patrol Home Page.

A note about the booklet, there have been a few small changes in the State Boating Laws since the booklet was published, the biggest one I noticed was the change in the damage limits for reporting accidents.

Thanks for your interest in and support of boating safety.

– c / m –

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

7 Responses to Avoiding the Seattle Harbor Patrol’s Attention

  1. CAPT Mike says:

    Hi Captnmike,
    I am also CAPT Mike, via USN & USNR.
    Grew up in Seattle some time ago, then enlisted and moved away.
    Thanks for a little ‘taste of home.’


  2. Pingback: Important Seattle Area Boating Information | Boating Safety Tips, Tricks & Thoughts from Captnmike

  3. Pingback: Where Are You In Lake Washington? | Boating Safety Tips, Tricks & Thoughts from Captnmike

  4. Mark Asplund, JD says:

    It seems like the most dangerous “boats” on Lake Union are the Seaplanes taking off and landing – are they exempt from the speed laws (clearly) an who has the right of way (shouldn’t it be the slower moving boats)? Why in the world are they allowed to be in such a dense boating area anyhow? dangerous, loud and ruins the lake for the rest of us (as well as the neighbors). Now they seem to have marked out their own personal runway as well? Ahhh Seattle – loves giving away community goods to the private sector

    • captnmike says:

      From the Nav Rules – Rule 18 – Responsibilities Between Vessels Paragraph (e)

      (e) A seaplane on the water shall, in general, keep well clear of all vessels and avoid impeding their navigation. In circumstances, however, where risk of collision exists, she shall comply with the Rules of this Part.

      Which puts seaplanes below Powerboats, but still required to avoid collisions. One thing for all boaters to keep in mind is the whirling thing in the front called a propeller and the damage it would do to a standard boat that operates on Lake Union. Which also brings us to the “law of common sense” does it really make sense to make life miserable for another vessel just because you have rights on the vessel.

      On the speed, I have not looked at the fine print for the Seattle area regulations, but I would be surprised if there was not an ability for a seaplane to go fast enough to take off or land safely within the speed limit rules.

      Rules or not – if a seaplane decided to run up and down Lake Union at high speed, I would also expect the Seattle Harbor Patrol to have a very serious talk with the pilot about their actions.

      Yes Lake Union does get busy on Duck Dodge nights and everyone needs to share a bit.

      Thanks for stopping by

  5. Lee kirk says:

    Wish they would require all people in a ( ( all water crafts) boat to wear a life jacket. Some people just don’t realize how dangerous water can be

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