Most boaters need a valid boating license to legally operate motorized water vessels anywhere on Washington territory. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission oversees how to get a boating license and sets boating policies for waterways across the state. Boaters interested in applying for a license can submit a request to Washington State Parks after completing the necessary education requirements by a number of different application methods. Certain eligibility requirements apply to all license applicants.

Washington residents can apply for an online boating license by completing the application procedure of one of the state’s recommended web-based programs. WA boaters who have received a boat certification but who need a replacement due to misplacement or destruction of the original card can request a duplicate from Washington State Parks. All applications for a license to boat must be accompanied by the necessary application fee. Some education programs carry enrollment fees, though free programs can be found. Read on to learn more about legally boating in Washington.

Do you need a license to drive a boat in Washington?

Getting a boat license is not necessary for any boat operators born on or before January 1, 1955 in Washington. Those born afterward must apply for and receive a Washington State Boater Education Card in order to legally operate any boat with 15 or more horsepower anywhere in Washington.

Boaters born before 1955 are completely exempt from the education and license requirements. However, similar to applying for a driver’s license in Wahington state, most boaters will be required to complete certain education requirements before obtaining a boating card.

Washington Boat License Requirements

The minimum boating license age in Washington is 12 years of age. Any driver who was born after January, 1955 and who is 12 years of age or older can meet the state’s requirements for a license.

Some other categories of boat operators automatically meet state boat license requirements based on other certifications they possess and therefore do not need to apply for a card. Examples of such exceptions include:

  • Boaters who regularly operate a commercial water vessel and possess a valid commercial license.
  • Operators who possess a valid U.S. Coast Guard Marine Operator License.
  • Boaters of government water vessels exempt from state registration.
  • Renters of boats who have completed the necessary watercraft safety checklist as provided by the rental agency and who have been issued a temporary operator’s permit.

Getting a Boat License in Washington

Boaters thinking about where to get a boating license in Washington should note that eligibility requirements do not change based on application submission method or location. To receive a Boater Education Card, Washington residents are required to enroll in and pass a state-approved education program.

Washington State Parks allows boaters to enroll in a variety of boaters safety course programs taught online or in-person. Both online and classroom courses can be used equally to meet the state’s requirements. Once the education program has been completed, the applicant can submit a request for a license to boat.

How long does it take to get a boating license in Washington? Basic state-approved boating classes can be completed in just a few hours, though many courses include additional topics to the required basics that extend the length of the course.

Classroom-based courses may be best for newer boaters looking for a more hands-on experience. Boat boaters in Washington can take the following steps to apply for a license:

  1. Decide whether you would like to take an approved education program online or in a classroom. Washington State Parks offers a list of qualified programs currently offerings courses across the state.
  2. Sign up for the course. Study the WA state guide for boaters and other applicable material to prepare for the course exam.
  3. Take the exam. When you pass, receive your Certificate of Completion electronically or in print format. This certificate can be used as a temporary 60-day permit to boat while you await your boat card in the mail.
  4. Print and complete the WA Boater Education Card Application. Sign and date it.
  5. Package the application with the certificate and mail it along with the application fee.
  6. Receive your permanent boat card in the mail in about two to four weeks. Contact WA State Parks after 30 days if you still have not received the card.

Washington Boater Safety Courses

Whether a boat operator chooses to enroll in an online boater’s safety course or an in-person class, he or she must learn the same foundational topics in order to pass the state exam. Both the online boating course and the in-person class review how to safely operate different types of common water vessels and adhere to state laws and best practices regulating WA waterways.

Renewing and Replacing a Washington Boating License

Boat boaters are required to keep proof of passing the state boater exam with them at all times when operating an applicable water vessel in Washington. If a cardholder loses or destroys his or her card, he or she is obligated to request a duplicate card from Washington State Parks before operating a boat again. WA boaters can submit a request for a replacement boating license by taking the following steps:

  1. Print out and complete a Boater Card Replacement Affidavit.
  2. Prepare the appropriate processing fee by check or money order made payable to Washington State Parks.
  3. Submit the application form and processing fee by mail.
  4. Wait for your new card in the mail. No temporary permit is currently available for replacement applicants.

Washington Boat Registration Basics

Most types of water vessels require that a WA boat registration and title be issued by the Washington State Department of Licensing before they can be legally operated on state waterways. This boat title and registration requirement does not apply to owners of any water vessel that:

  • Is a canoe, kayak or another water vessel not propelled by a motor or sail
  • Is less than 16 feet in length
  • Has a motor of 10 horsepower or less and is used on non-federal waters only
  • Is properly registered by a resident of another state or country who uses Washington waters for 60 days or fewer

Once properly registered, the boat owner must place the supplied boat registration stickers that must be placed correctly on the water vessel. Registration, titling and decal procedures must be regularly renewed to stay valid.

Washington Boating Rules and Regulations

Washington state boating regulations were established by the WA State Parks and Recreation Commission to keep boaters and swimmers safe and protect the natural environment from abuse. State boat requirements concerning the equipment that must be abroad water vessels at all times and the types of systems that must be present aim to protect boaters from potential problems while on the water. Here are some important WA boating laws that all boat operators should remember when driving:

  • Washington boating rules prohibit boaters from operating any water vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Boaters found to be driving under the influence will face criminal penalties akin to driving a car while intoxicated.
  • All water vessels must have at least one wearable, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)-approved Type I, II, or III life jacket on board for every person on the boat at all times.
  • All life jackets must fit appropriately according to the age, weight and activity of expected occupants and be in proper, usable condition.
  • All water vessels 16 feet or longer must have at least one throwable USCG-approved Type IV personal flotation device.
  • All boat passengers of any age aboard personal watercraft must always wear a life jacket.
  • Passengers on all water vessels over 19 feet in length who are 12 years of age or younger must wear an approved life jacket at all times when the boat is in motion.
  • Anchoring or stopping for a prolonged period of time beneath a bridge or in the channel is strictly prohibited.
  • All boat operators should pay special attention to military and commercial areas blocked off to public access.
  • If an accident occurs, boaters are required to report the incident within 48 hours when an injury is involved or within 10 days for other cases.

Washington Boating License Fees

All boaters must complete a boating course before they can apply for a license. This course is offered for free by some providers and for a small fee from other providers.

Once the applicant has passed the WA boat license test, he or she can submit the license application with the $10 processing fee. This fee is standard. Boaters requesting a duplicate card for a license that was lost or destroyed will need to include a $5 application fee.

Last updated on Friday, March 6 2020.