Boating is immensely popular in the state of Washington. It is estimated that 700,000 Washingtonians own some type of watercraft—and Seattle happens to be a major hub for this boating activity. Locals here love to get on the water, whether it’s a day boat, sailboat, yacht, or row boat. If you’re looking for a happy boating community to get cozy with, consider boating in Seattle, which offers beginners and enthusiasts the perfect setting and circumstances to get going.
Read on to discover some of the best places to go boating in Seattle, and local boating laws to keep in mind:
- Where to go boating in Seattle
- Washington boating laws
Where to Boat in Seattle
You’re in luck if you’re looking for a scenic water passageway in Seattle. There are several gorgeous spots. To name a few:
- Lake Union
- Puget Sound
- Lake Sammamish
- Lake Washington
Lake Union (580-acre) near downtown Seattle is populated with seaplanes, day boats, and even wooden boats! Kenmore Air Harbor Seaplane Base and Seattle Seaplanes are seaplane bases that call Lake Union in Seattle home.
Every year, the Center for Wooden Boats hosts a wooden boat festival right on Lake Union during September.
There are also sailboat races every Tuesday throughout the summer, while kayaking, canoeing, row boating, and stand-up paddleboarding are popular activities that can be explored year-round. We strongly recommend setting sail on Lake Union. You’ll also be in the vicinity of notable historic ships such as:
- Steamer Virginia V
- Northwest Seaport’s Tugboat Arthur Foss
- Fireboat Duwamish
Be sure to check out our post, Clean Lake Union: Practical, Natural Solutions.
Puget Sound is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean and the Salish Sea. The average water depth is 450 feet, and the deepest known point is Jefferson Point (950 feet). It is 95 miles long and has an estimated 1,330 miles of shoreline. Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Everett are its neighbors.
The inlet is the home of the Seattle Sailing Club (Shilshole Bay Marina). Puget Sound offers boaters one of the best sailing experiences ranging from major booming cities to nearly untouched wilderness islands.
You can also have an international boating experience here. Puget Sound connects the US to Canada, more specifically, you’ll be within reach of Vancouver Island. Not to mention, the sound is home to extraordinary marine life. You’ll be among orcas, whales, seals, sea urchins, and more.
Lake Sammamish can be accessed through Lake Sammamish State Park. The park is 512 acres and offers nearly 7,000 feet of lakefront. You find the lake riddled with large and small boats alike.
If you enjoy fishing smallmouth bass or harvesting shellfish, this is your lake. You can also find cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, yellow perch, brown bullhead catfish, black crappie, Chinook salmon, kokanee trout, and steelhead trout.
There are nine boat launches on the lake and two lake beaches. Clear skies here give you sights of Mount Ranier. So be camera ready!
Lake Washington is a ribbon lake that is fed by the Sammamish River and Cedar River. Coastal cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, and crappie fishermen call this body of water home.
At 21,745 acres, it is the second largest freshwater lake in the state. Lake Washington hosts the SeaFair hydroplane races annually. You can take the Lake Washington Cruise by Argosy to learn Seattle’s history during a 90-minute water tour.
Lake Washington has many boat access points and is easy to launch into!
Washington Boating Laws
It is important to carefully follow all rules and regulations for any body of water you enter and to respect fellow boaters and the natural wildlife that calls the area home. Here are some of the most important mandates in Washington. For full Washington boating laws, visit the Washington State Recreation and Conversion site.
Don’t drink and drive a boat
According to local government reports, alcohol caused 21% of all Washington deaths in 2014; 17% of all boating fatalities are directly related to alcohol use. Boating while impaired or intoxicated is illegal and can result in a BUI. This is a gross misdemeanor and is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The legal limit for operating under the influence of alcohol on our waterways is .08, and the legal limit for boating under the influence of marijuana is 5.0 nanograms. This applies to all boats, motorized or not, including kayaks, canoes, and rafts.
Read Boating Under the Influence: Designating a Sober Skipper to learn more.
Boating age & education requirements
- Children 12 years or older can operate a motorboat of 15 horsepower or greater with a Washington Boater Education card.
- Without a card, the child can drive with the supervision of someone who is at least 16 and carrying a card.
- Anyone born before January 1st, 1955, does not need the Boater Education Card.
- Personal watercraft can only be operated by those who are at least 14 years old.
- You cannot lease, rent, or hire a personal watercraft to anyone under the age of 16.
Other rules to keep in mind
- You need a Washington title, registration card, and registration decal to boat in Washington. The only exceptions are kayaks, canoes, or other boats not powered by sails or motors. If the boat is under 16 feet long, it is exempt, and if the vessel is properly registered in another state and will be used fewer than 60 days per year in Washington, it is also exempt.
- Don’t stop or anchor in the channel or under bridges.
- Spilling oil or pollutants is illegal and will result in a $10,000 fine per violation, or $100,000 for each day the pollutant causes risk or harm to the environment.
- Boats that are over 26 feet long must display a MARPOL trash placard. Vessels that are over forty feet must have a written Waste Management Plan onboard and stick to it. No trash can be thrown overboard in Puget Sound. Failure to comply can result in up to a five-year sentence, a $50,000 fine, plus $25,000 in civil penalties.
- Raw untreated sewage has to be properly disposed of via a pump-out station or an official mobile pump-out service. Discharging sewage in Puget Sound or any of its freshwater tributaries will result in a $2,000 fine.
- Intentionally draining oil or oil waste can lead to a $20,000 per day per violation fine, plus the cost of environmental cleanup, damage, and property repairs.
Discover more boating destinations using our Boating Guides & Resources!
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