Washington Kayaking Laws (Rules and Regulations)


Washington Kayaking Laws - Rules and Regulations

Washington kayaking laws are set and governed by the Washington Department of State Parks. Washington State Parks rangers, Department of Fish and Wildlife agents, and local authorities enforce those kayaking rules and regulations.

Washington sits on the northwest coast of the United States and is home to an astounding number of rivers, lakes and ocean shoreline, encompassing many miles of water. This wide array of varying waterways makes it a great option for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding and other water vessel activities.

Here’s a summary of what you need to know about Washington kayaking laws.

Legal Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only. I am not an attorney and am not giving legal advice. If you have specific questions about your state’s laws, you should consult a local attorney.

Washington Kayaking Laws Summary

  • Washington Kayaking Laws – Washington law considers kayaks and canoes to be paddle vessels.
  • Washington Kayak Registration – Manually propelled kayaks and canoes are exempt from registration.
  • Motorized Kayak Registration – All vessels over 16 feet in length or with a motor of 10 horsepower or more must be registered and titled. This includes a trolling motor on a canoe or kayak.
  • Kayak Operator Licensing in Washington – A Boater Education Card is required if the operator is using a vessel with a 15-horsepower or more motor, was born after January 1, 1955, or is 12 years of age or older.
  • Motorized Kayaking Age – All operators of motor vessels with 15 or more horsepower must be at least 12 years old and have a Boating Education Card. (See below for further restrictions)
  • Kayaking BUI Law – Washington has a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law that applies to all vessels. No person is allowed to operate a watercraft under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other self-administered intoxicants.
  • Kayaking Life Jacket Law – All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board. (see below for kayak and canoe specifics)
  • Kayak Lights Law – Kayaks must carry a white lantern or electric torch that can be displayed during times of low visibility.
  • Kayaking Sounding Devices – A sounding device is required on all paddlecraft vessels. (see below additional for regulations)
  • Kayaking VDS Law – VDS are required on kayaks when operating on federal waters at night.

That only summarizes Washington boating laws as they relate to kayaking and canoeing. The details are more in-depth and specific. Read on to find out how to paddle legally in Washington.

Affiliate Notification: Paddle Camp is reader-supported. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means we will earn a commission on the products or services you purchase using the links.

Washington Kayak Registration

Non-Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak in Washington? No. Manually propelled canoes, kayaks, and other non-motorized vehicles are exempt from registration. 

Motorized

Do you have to register a kayak with a trolling motor in Washington? Yes. All vessels require registration unless the vessel is under 16 feet in length, has a motor of 10 hp or less, and is used on non-federal waters only. All registrations expire June 30th of every year.Washington Department of Parks Boat Registration PageOpens in a new tab.

Titling

Washington Vessel Titling: All registered vessels must be titled through the Washington State Department of Licensing.

Registration Resources

Washington Online Boat Registration Renewal Page – Washington State Department of LicensingOpens in a new tab.

Related Article: Paddle Board Registration

Washington Kayaking Operator Education Laws

Non-Motorized

Do you need a license to kayak in Washington? No. A Boater Education Card is only required for operators of motorized vessels. 

Motorized

Do you need a license to operate a motorized kayak in Washington? Yes. A Boater Education Card is required for anyone born after January 1st, 1955, anyone 12 years of age or older, and anyone operating a vessel with a 15-horsepower or greater motor. 

Youth

Any person 12 years of age or older may operate a motorboat of 15 horsepower or greater with a Boater Education Card. Otherwise, a supervisor who is at least 16 years old and carrying their Boater Education Card is necessary.

Washington Kayaking BUI Laws

Can you get a DUI on a kayak in Washington? Yes. Washington’s BUI law prohibits anyone from operating any vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can get the equivalent of a DUI, a BUI (Boating Under the Influence) in Washington, with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08%, or if under the influence of controlled drugs or other substances when operating any motorized vessel. It is a gross misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Related Article: Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak?

Washington Kayak Life Jacket Laws

Do you need a life jacket to kayak in Washington? Yes. All canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards must have on board one USCG approved wearable PFD for each person on board, and all persons 12 years of age and under must wear a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket at all times while underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length unless in a fully enclosed area.

Washington PFD Details:

  • All PFDs should be readily accessible, in serviceable condition, and of the appropriate size for the intended user.
  • All wearable PFDs in Washington are required to be a USCG-approved Type I, II, or III floatation device.

PFD Age Laws

What age do you have to wear a life jacket in Washington? All persons 12 years of age and under must wear a properly sized coast guard approved life jacket while underway on a vessel less than 19 feet in length unless in a fully enclosed area. 

Type IV Throwable PFD

Do I need a Type IV “throwable” on my kayak in Washington? No. Paddlecraft are exempt from Washington’s law that all vessels 16 feet or longer in length must carry at least one throwable PFD.

Related Article: Kayak Life Jacket Laws by State (50 State List)

Washington Kayaking Lights Laws

What lights do I need on my kayak at night? All paddleboards require navigation lights between sunset and sunrise, such as a flashlight or headlamp with a white light.

While anchored or adrift, the white light must be on.

Powered vessels require USCG-approved red and green side lights as well as a white all-around light when not at dock. The white light must be visible at a distance of at least two miles, and the colored lights must be visible at a distance of at least one mile.

Washington Kayaking Sounding Devices Laws

Do I need a whistle on a kayak in Washington? Yes. Paddlecraft must have some way of making an efficient sound signal such as a whistle or air horn.

The best “sounding” device for kayakers and canoeists is a whistle attached to your PFD in a place that’s quick and easy to deploy.

VDS – Visual Distress Signaling Devices

Visual distress signals are required when operating on federal waters between sunset and sunrise. Motorized vessels 16 feet and greater are also required to carry day signals. Visual distress signals must be USCG-approved, in serviceable condition, and readily accessible. 

Night Signals

Night signals are required between sunset and sunrise when operating on federal waters in Washington.

Day Signals

Visual Distress Signals are not required for non-motorized kayaks during the day unless the boat is over 16 feet in length.

Washington Kayaking Fire Extinguisher Laws

Do I need a fire extinguisher on my motorized kayak in Washington? No. Even if you have a trolling motor on your kayak, if the fuel tank isn’t permanently installed and is of open construction, you aren’t required to have a fire extinguisher.

Regardless of the law, we recommend carrying a small class B-I fire extinguisher if you have a trolling motor on your kayak or canoe. The worst thing in the world is a fire on a boat with no way to put it out, especially if you’re far from the shore.

Additional Washington Kayaking Laws Resources

Boating Law Enforcement

Washington State Parks rangers, Department of Fish and Wildlife agents, and local authorities enforce Washington’s boat and water safety laws.

As always, USCG officers enforce federally controlled waters in Washington.

Steve W

I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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