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It seems that here in our neck of the woods the summer heat is finally starting to arrive.  Yes, I wrote that last year too.  But it is that time – to remind folks about boating safety.  We’ve touched on it before – herehere, and here.  Many families will be out on our local waterways enjoying the hot weather in the summer days to come, on boats or personal watercraft (PWC).  Maybe even more so than in past years, as COVID-19 makes many other traditional summer pursuits impossible.

All boat owners and operators should take time re-familiarize themselves with the necessary operational and safety rules. Although they can be a ton of fun, boats and PWC’s can also cause serious injuries when used unsafely, a fact borne out by the many boating injuries and fatalities that occur every year.  We can’t cover in a blog post all of the safety tips one could want or need, at least not as well as one of the boating safety courses that are available online or in person.  But here’s a few things to keep in mind.

Although the need to keep a lookout and drive carefully applies both on the road and on the water, boating presents unique safety challenges. Other craft on waterways might be coming at you from any direction at any time, so the need to scan ahead and around you is possibly even more acute than on controlled roadways. A primary rule of safe boating is to wear a personal floatation device (PFD, or life vest) at all times, and insist that your passengers do the same. Manufacturers make some very comfortable safety vest options now, and it’s too late to be trying to find one to put on when you’ve been knocked off the boat unexpectedly.

Alcohol is involved in a high percentage of boating accidents, and I think there’s a general feeling amongst a lot of the boating public that drinking and boating go hand in hand. From our perspective, there’s probably little controversy in stating that it is best practice for boating to be done soberly. According to Washington State Parks, almost 20% of recreational boating fatalities involve alcohol as a leading factor. It is clearly not against the law for of-age passengers in a boat to have open containers and be consuming alcohol.  Operating a boat under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal and carries similar penalties as a regular DUI. In researching this post, I found some articles from recent years indicating that it was illegal in Washington for a boat operator to even be in possession of alcohol or consuming it while operating. At least my initial research into the actual statutes failed to find support for this proposition. But boat operators who imbibe even a little should bear in mind that an officer can ask you to submit to sobriety tests (with penalties for refusing) if they can articulate probable cause. Probable cause is likely going to be easily found if the operator has been drinking and/or has an open container in their possession.

As of a few years ago, Washington now requires all boat operators born after Jan. 1, 1955 to take an education course and obtain a certification after passing a test. To learn about the rules and requirements for boat operation Washington, start at the State boater education website:, or go to the state parks website.

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About the Author

Scott A. Staples

Scott Staples came on board in 2006 as a clerk during law school, and joined the firm as an associate attorney in 2007. He was made a shareholder in the firm in 2010. Scott graduated, cum laude, from Washington State University Vancouver with a BA in English, and obtained his Juris Doctorate from Willamette University College of Law, with cum laude honors there as well. He has successfully represented clients in a variety of different types of injury cases, including auto collisions, premises liability, animal attacks, watercraft accidents, and construction site injuries. He has appeared, and won, before the Washington State Supreme Court (Weismann v. Safeco, 2012).

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