Legal Requirements for Operator Competence

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Laws to ensure Operator Competence

Washington State
Mandatory Boater Education
Boater Education Card
Boaters in Washington need to have their Washington State Boater Education Card with them when operating a boat 15 horsepower or greater. Boater operators born before January 1,1955 are exempt but may choose to get a card if they plan to boat in Canada or Oregon since both require mandatory education.
Getting a Boater Education Card
Applicants will need to complete the following requirements:
Take one of the following approved boater education courses:
Classroom Courses
Equivalency Exam
Hands-On Training Courses
Home Study Course
Online Courses
Then complete and submit the Boater Education Card Application, along with $10, and a legal copy of your proof of course completion.
When should I get my card? If you don’t receive your card within 90 days, please contact State Parks Boating Program at boating@parks.wa.gov or (360) 902-8555.
​Replacing a Boater Education Card
You may apply for a replacement card if your legal name has been changed, you need to correct personal information you entered incorrectly, or your card was lost, stolen, or destroyed. The fee for a replacement card is $5.
To receive a replacement card:
Complete a Boater Card Replacement Affidavit
Completed affidavit along with a check or money order for $5, made payable to Washington State Parks
Mail to: Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
Boating Programs
P.O. Box 34333
Seattle, WA 98124-1333
Please allow four to six weeks to process an affidavit and receive a replacement card.
More from Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission
Boater Education
Getting a Mandatory Boater Education Card
State law requires operators of motorboats with 15 horsepower or greater to take a safety education courseand obtain a boater education card to operate a boat in Washington. Boaters can take an education course in a classroom, online, or at home.
Classroom Courses
Classroom courses vary in length and cost, depending on the course provider. Classes offer students the chance to interact with an instructor who is an experienced boater, learn specific local boating information, and network with other boaters. Visit Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for detailed information.
Equivalency Exam
If you are an experienced boater and have a good working knowledge of navigation rules and Washington laws, you may opt to take a 75-question equivalency exam with no reference material.
To request a equivalency exam, email the Boating Department of Washington State Parks and Recreation with the following information:
Date of birth
First and last name, exactly as it on your current government-issued photo identification (e.g. driver’s license, state I.D. card, or passport)
Mailing address (including city, state, and zip code)
Send only one name per email request. A unique numbered certification exam and detailed instructions will be mailed to you. Allow up to two weeks for delivery.Hands-On Training Courses
Classroom and hands-on courses vary in length and cost, depending on the course provider. Classes offer students the chance to take a certified boater safety course, while interacting with an instructor who is an experienced boater. The on-the-water boat handling skills are designed to make you comfortable, knowledgeable, and safe. Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission has a list of organizations that offer boating education with classroom and hands-on training.
Home Study Courses
The Adventures in Boating Washington home study course consists of an online study guide and certification exam booklet. The course offers the basics of safe boating that all recreational boaters should know, and covers a number of important laws and regulations. A certificate of accomplishment is issued upon successful completion of the exam.
To take a home study course read the online study guide Boat Washington Course. You do not need to register for the course for access to the online study guide. To request the certification exam booklet, email theBoating Department of Washington State Parks and Recreation with the following information:
Date of birth
First and last name, exactly as it on your current government-issued photo identification (e.g. driver’s license, state I.D. card, or passport)
Mailing address (including city, state, and zip code)
Send only one name per email request. A unique numbered certification exam and detailed instructions will be mailed to you. Allow up to two weeks for delivery.
If you have any questions regarding the Boater Education Card Home Study Program, email the Boating Department of the Washington State Parks and Recreation or call 360-902-8555.Online Courses
Washington State Parks has approved all of the online courses listed on their Web site, but does not recommend any course specifically. The online course providers are privately owned. Washington State Parks does not receive any money from course fees charged. Some online courses are free and others have a fee. The fee is charged usually for exam results and only when the exam is passed. The course fee charged is determined solely at the discretion of the online course provider.
Obtaining a Boater Education Card
After taking the boater education course, complete and submit the Boater Education Card Application, along with $10, and a legal copy of your proof of course completion.
FREE online paddle sports safety course!
The Washington State Parks Boating Program invites boaters to try an online course for paddlers. The free, online paddling course is being offered by BoaterExam.com. The course is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, a nonprofit organization that works to develop public policy for recreational boating safety. The course covers the basics for your first adventure on the water…a must for anyone looking to start paddling. Whether you have a desire to learn the sport for the first time or improve your skills as a paddler, the course will provide you with basic boating knowledge and sharpen your skills.
Take the free course and you’ll start your boating season with important information that will help you build on your technique, confidence, and enhance your time out on the waterways! Get started
More from Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office
FAQ
1.Am I required to carry a Boater Education Card to operate all types of boats?
Unless you are exempt, you need to carry a card when operating boats with motors of 15 horsepower or greater, which include all personal watercraft (e.g. Jet Skis). Although the law does not require operators of manually powered boats such as canoes, kayaks, rowboats, drift boats and, sail-only boats to carry a card, Taking a boating safey course and getting the boater card is recommended for all boat operators.
2.Who is exempt from having a Boater Safety Education Card?
Exemptions are listed in RCW 79A.60.640. The following people are exempt from carrying a card:
People born before 1/1/1955 do not need a card.
Operators of commercial fishing boats must have a valid commercial license or Boating Safety Education Card when operating a recreational vessel.
Operators with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) marine operator license must have valid USCG operator license or Boating Safety Education Card when operating a recreational vessel.
Operators of exempt vessels must have Boating Safety Education Card when operating a recreational vessel.
Operators of rented, leased, or chartered vessels must have a copy of the Commission-approved educational checklist in lieu of Boating Safety Education Card when operating a livery vessel.
An operator who is a resident of another state or country does not need a card for the first 60 consecutive days. After the 60 days, they must have a Washington Boater Education Card.
An operator who is a resident of another state or country who has a valid card from that state or country does not need a card for first 60 consecutive days. After the 60 days they must have a Washington Boater Education Card.
For a person purchasing a vessel the bill of sale showing date of purchase is valid in lieu of a Washington Boating Education Card for the first 60 days after purchasing a vessel.
A person not yet required to have a card does not need a card until date of phasing in.
3.When will I be required to have my Washington Boater Education Card in my possession when operating a boat?
The card requirement is being phased in from 2008 to 2014. All operators of boats having motors of 15 horsepower or greater are required to have their Boater Safety Education Card with them when operating a boat as follows:
4.Do I have to wait to get my Boater Education Card until the year it is required?
No. If you have taken an approved boating safety education course, you may apply for your card now. The Washington State Boating Programs encourages boaters to get their cards as soon as possible.
5.What do I need to do to qualify for a Boater Education Card?
You must take a course that is approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. You can find an approved boater education courses in the classroom, classroom/hands-on, online or at home. A copy of your course completion certificate must be submitted with your Boater Education Card Application.
6.How much does a Boater Education Card cost?
Your lifetime Boater Education Card will cost $10, payable by check or money order. However, an online course provider can charge a $.50 handling fee.
7.How can I get my Boater Education Card?
Complete and submit a Boater Education Card Application, along with a check or money order for $10 and a copy of your course completion certificate, to the address given on the application.
8.When will I receive my Boater Education Card?
Once your application, check, and supporting documents are received, it takes between four and six weeks to process and send your Washington Boater Education Card. If you don’t recieve your card within about eight weeks from submitting your check and application, contact Washington State Parks Boating Program at (360) 902-8555 or email boating@parks.wa.gov.
9.Do I have to wait six weeks before I can operate a motorboat?
Boaters who have completed a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) course and passed the course exam may operate a motorboat for up to 60 consecutive days with a dated Certificate of Course Completion. It is recommended that boaters immediately apply for their Boater Education Card after completing a course.
10.Is the Boater Education Card a license?
No. Once you apply for and receive your Boater Education Card it is good for lifetime and cannot be taken away from you.
11.Is there a fine for not having a Boater Education Card in my possession when operating a motorboat?
Yes. The fine is $87.
12.Is my Boater Education Card good in other states and Canada that have mandatory boating education requirements?
Yes. All states that have mandatory boater education requirements will accept a Washington Boater Education Card. Through an agreement between Canada and NASBLA, we have reciprocity for United States boater education cards that are issued by states that meet NASBLA requirements.
13.Is an Oregon Boater Education Card valid in Washington?
Yes. If you are visiting Washington for less than 60 consecutive days, your Oregon card is valid. If you become a Washington resident, your Oregon Boater Education Card can be used to obtain a Washington Boater Education Card. This also is true for other state’s cards that meet the reciprocity requirements.
14.Is there any reason to get a Boater Education Card if I am not required?
Yes. Many older boaters are still getting cards anyway because they boat in Canada and Oregon. Canada and Oregon do not exempt people born before January 1, 1955.
15.What do I do if my Boater Education Card is lost or damaged?
You can get a replacement card for $5. See the Card Replacement Affidavit form for directions on applying for a replacement card.
16.What is the history of the Boating Safety Education Bill?
Legislation requiring boat operators to take a boater safety education course in order to operate a boat in Washington state was signed into law by Governor Chris Gregoire on May 11, 2005. The legislation was developed by the Washington Alliance for Mandatory Boater Education (WAMBE). WAMBE is comprised of representatives from a variety of boating-related organizations. The alliance includes representatives of the boating industry, representatives of recreational boating groups, as well as government, law enforcement, and marine safety groups. WAMBE was formed in September 2002 to improve recreational boating safety in Washington state.
The law is patterned after similar legislation in Oregon and requires completion of a basic boating class, or passage of an equivalency exam, to obtain a Boater Education Card. The Boater Education Card is required for operation of a motorboat with 15 horsepower or more. Like the Oregon law, the Washington law will have a phased-in period for compliance. The Boater Education Card is not like a driver’s license. It is obtained once and is good for lifetime. The card informs law enforcement that the boat operator has a basic level of boating safety knowledge.
Washington joins 36 other states that have some sort of educational requirements for operating a boat. The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission’s Boating Safety Program administers the provisions of the law. The administration of the law is fully supported by the $10 Boater Education Card user fee. The program is funded by boaters for boaters.
More from Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission

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