1. Overview of the Boating Safety Education Act

Mandatory Boating Safety Education now a reality for Washington boaters. In 2005, a bill requiring boat operators to successfully complete a boater safety education course was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Christine Greqoire. The law, patterned after an Oregon statute, requires completion of a basic boating class or passage of an equivalency exam to obtain a Boater Education Card. SeeRCW 79A 60.630,et seq. The Boater Education Card will be required for operation of a boat with 15 horsepower or more. The boater education law adds Washington to a list of 36 other states that have similar educational requirements for operating a boat.

Though mandatory, the Boater Education Card differs from a driver's license. It is obtained once and is good for life. The card indicates that the boat operator has a basic level of boating safety knowledge, like a diploma. Like the Oregon law, the Washington law has a phased-in period for compliance. Beginning on January 1, 2008, boaters 20 years of age and younger were required to obtain their Boater Education Card. Since January 1, 2009, boaters 25 years of age or younger have been required to obtain their Boater Education Card. The phased-in period for compliance will continue until 2016 for various age groups. Boaters born before January 1, 1955 are exempt from having to obtain a Boater Education Card.

The Washington State Parks & Recreation Commission's Boating Safety Program administers the provisions of the new law. The administration of the law is totally supported by the $10 Boater Education Card user fee. The program is entirely funded by boaters for boaters, and is not accompanied by any tax increase.

Here is how the program has and will continue to be phased in: January 1, 2008 - All boat operators twenty years old and younger;

January 1, 2009 - All boat operators twenty-five years old and younger;

January 1, 2010 - All boat operators thirty years old and younger;

January 1, 2011 - All boat operators thirty-five years old and younger;

January 1, 2012 - All boat operators forty years old and younger;

January 1, 2013 - All boat operators fifty years old and younger;

January 1, 2014 - All boat operators sixty years old and younger;

January 1, 2015 - All boat operators seventy years old and younger;

January 1, 2016 - All boat operators over 12 years will be required to have a card.

Persons born before January 1, 1955 are exempt.

The Boating Safety Course

The principal feature of the new law is successful completion of a boating safety course. The course may be taken in a classroom setting, by individual study, or online. Prices and requirements vary depending on the type of course taken. The following is a compendium of course options:

2. The Classroom Option

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 as well as learn specific local boating information and network with other boaters. When boaters pass the test (70% or better for in-class courses), they are issued a certificate of completion and a Boater Education Card application. Students must mail a completed application and supporting documents to:

Washington State Parks Boating Programs P.O. Box 34333 Seattle, WA 98124-1333

The following organizations offer boating education classroom courses:

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, America's Boating Course (ABC)

  • Course length: Eight- to 12-hour course
  • When: One full day; two half days; or one night a week for four to seven weeks
  • Cost: Fees vary

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary,Boating Skills and Seamanship

  • Course length: Eight- to 13-lesson course (exceeds minimum state requirements)
  • When: Weekly for six to seven weeks

- Cost: Fees vary

U.S. Power Squadron Boating Course

  • Course length: Seven weeks (exceeds minimum state requirements)
  • When: Six or seven, two-hour classes
  • Cost: Fees vary

U.S. Power Squadron BoatSmart Course

  • When: One full day; two half days; one evening a week for three to four weeks
  • Cost: Fees vary

For USPS District 16 class schedules, go online, http://www.usps.org/cgi-bin/fclass.cgi?16, or call (888) FOR-USPS.

State Parks Boating Programs Classes

  • When: One full day or two half days;

Cost: Fees vary

Schedule: http://www.parks.wa.gov/boating/Boating%20Safety%20Class%20Schedule.pdf

3. Community Colleges

Some community colleges will be offering a Boating Safety Education course in the fall of 2007. Contact a local community college for availability. Fees vary.

4. Online Courses

The following organizations offer online courses that are approved by Washington State Parks and meet state mandatory boater education requirements. Course fees range from $10 to $35.

  • Each test has 75 questions. Student must score at least 80% to pass online courses.
  • There is no waiting period to retake the test if failed.
  • There is no limit on how many times the test can be taken to pass.

Adventures in Boating, http://www.boat-ed.com/wa/index.htm

Boater Exam. Com, http://www.boaterexam.com/usa/washington/

Marine University, http://www.boater101.com/courseintro.aspx

5. Home Study Course

The Washington State Parks Boating Programs also allows boaters to take a home study course. To request a copy of the Adventures in Boating Course Manual, send an e-mail to boating@parks.wa.gov or call (360) 586-6592. Complete the test included in the manual, and return the test to the address below.

Once boaters pass the test (70% or better), they will be sent a certificate of completion and a Boater Education Card application. Boaters must mail the completed application and supporting documents to:

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission Boating Programs P.O. Box 34333 Seattle, WA 98124-1333

Steven D. Robinson is a partner at Karr Tuttle Campbell and avid boater.