Washington boater education card combats waterborne accidents

It’s prime boating season, meaning waterborne accidents, injuries and fatalities are on the rise around the state.

To combat those dangers, the state recently passed a new education requirement, which began Jan. 1, requiring any boat operator between 12 and 20 years old to carry a boater education card when operating a motorboat of 15 horsepower or greater on Washington waterways, according to the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).

The card requirement applies to boaters born on or after Jan. 1, 1955. It will be phased in by various age groups through 2014.

Boaters are encouraged to obtain their card, costing $10 and good for a lifetime, and can do so through classroom and online courses or by taking an in-home exam, according to KCSO.

“We’re just here to keep people safe,” KCSO Marine Unit Sgt. Jim McDonough said.

McDonough said alcohol often contributes to boat accidents, especially in boats shorter than 21 feet in length, a trend boaters tend to ignore.

“Obviously, a lot of people like to drink alcohol (on the water),” he said. “A lot of people take drinking and boating for granted.”

Aside from wearing life jackets, McDonough said boaters need to share the waterways and remember that driving a boat is different than driving a car.

To combat waterborne incidents and offer boaters a few guidelines, KCSO recently released a list of safety, regulation and education tips.

Here’s a look:

• All vessels, including canoes and kayaks, must have at least one U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved type I, II or III life jacket/personal flotation device (PFD) for each person onboard.

• One type IV USCG approved PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer, in addition to the requirement above. Canoes and kayaks are exempt from this requirement.

• Children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG approved PFD at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.

• Each person on board a personal water craft, and anyone being towed behind a vessel, must wear a type I, II or III USCG-approved PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not recommended for these activities.

• A type V PFD may be substituted for any other type if it is specifically approved by the USCG for the activity at hand and is being worn.

• All PFDs must be: USCG-approved, in good and serviceable condition, readily accessible and of the proper size for the intended wearer.

For more information on boat safety and education, visit the Washington State Parks Web site at

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