Washington State is one of the most popular boating destinations in the country. From Lake Chelan to the Salish Sea, there’s no shortage of water on which to take your vessel.
Fortunately, boating accidents are relatively rare in the Evergreen State. Nevertheless, they do still occur on occasion.
|Washington boat accidents (2019)|
|Fatal accidents||Total accidents||Total damage|
|Source: United States Coast Guard 2019 Recreational Boating Statistics Report|
When accidents on the water happen, victims may be able to recover damages if they can prove that someone else’s negligence was the cause of their injury or damages.
Boat operators in Washington should be familiar with both state and federal boating regulations. The state regulations can be found in Chapter 79A.60 of the Revised Code of Washington. The federal regulations can be found in Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Washington boating laws can be divided into 2 broad categories:
Let’s take a closer look at both.
To operate (or even moor) a vessel in Washington, you must have a valid Washington title, registration card, and registration decals, unless:
In addition to a title, registration card, and registration decals, you must obtain a Boater Education Card if:
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) estimates that life jackets could have saved the lives of more than 80% of boating fatality victims. To put it simply, you should wear a life jacket.
But is it legally required?
When picking out a life jacket, the Washington State Parks Department has some simple recommendations:
✔ Find one you’ll actually wear. Choosing the right life jacket requires research. Your body type and swimming skills, along with the type of boating activity and environment, need to be considered.
✔ Read the label and be sure you understand performance levels, warnings, intended use, and maintenance requirements.
✔ Learn how to properly fit a life jacket. It needs to help keep your head above the water. It should fit snugly and comfortably enough to be worn at all times.
✔ Regularly check for wear and tear and be sure to service inflatables (replace cartridges, etc.).
If you don’t have a life jacket, you may be able to borrow one from a life jacket loaner station at no charge. Life jacket loaner stations, which are operated by the State Parks Boating Program in partnership with the Washington Drowning Prevention Network, are located at marinas, near boat ramps, and at various state parks.
Revised Code of Washington 79A.60.030 states that:
“A person shall not operate a vessel in a negligent manner. To ‘operate in a negligent manner’ means operating a vessel in disregard of careful and prudent operation.”
Some examples of actions that are probably negligent include:
A person is considered to be “under the influence” in Washington if the result of a breath or blood test shows any of the following:
Here are some more laws you should be aware of while operating a vessel in Washington:
There’s a lot to keep in mind when operating a boat, from being aware of other boats and objects to accounting for the wind or current. Just like driving a car, failing to pay attention for even a moment can result in a catastrophic accident.
Each year, the USCG releases its Recreational Boating Statistics report, which looks at the top 10 boat accident contributing factors. Here are the latest findings:
|Top 10 boat accident contributing factors (2019)|
|Contributing factor||Number of accidents||Number of deaths||Number of injuries|
|Force of wake/wave||235||21||141|
|Navigation rules violation||170||48||87|
If you’re involved in a boat accident in Washington, you’re required to stop at the scene of the accident and assist anyone who is injured or in danger (so long as doing so wouldn’t endanger you).
What’s more, you must file a Washington Boat Accident Report with the local law enforcement agency if:
To receive compensation for a boat accident, you need to prove that someone else was “at fault” for the accident. In most cases, this means proving that the person was negligent.
To establish negligence in Washington, you must prove 3 elements:
Some examples of the parties who may be liable in a Washington boat accident include:
What happens if you’re partially responsible for your accident but still want to recover damages?
Washington follows the pure comparative fault rule, which means that your damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you successfully sue the defendant for $100,000 and the court finds that you were 10% at fault for your accident, you will only be able to recover $90,000.
Just because you prove that someone else’s negligence caused your accident, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to actually collect the judgment. If the defendant doesn’t have boater’s insurance or assets, they might not be able to satisfy the judgment. Unfortunately, motor vehicle insurance doesn’t cover boat accidents and only some homeowner’s insurance policies cover boat accidents.