Water safety tips from Washington State Parks for pandemic boating boom

May 24, 2021, 4:48 PM


Boating is a popular way for Washingtonians to get outdoors during the summer, but there are some important precautions to remember before stepping aboard. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

(Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

The pandemic has led to a tidal wave of people looking for socially-distanced fun in the form of boating on Washington’s lakes, rivers, and salt water.

“In 2020, the waterways were packed, … and we’re expecting 2021 to be just as busy,” said Rob Sendak, Boating Programs manager at Washington State Parks, and state boating law administrator.

Recreating on a boat is a great way to get outdoors, enjoy Washington’s natural splendor, and — at least if there’s no motor — get some exercise. But any time you are on the water, it’s critical to make sure you are having fun safely.

In honor of National Safe Boating Week, Washington State Parks is reminding everyone of some helpful tips to make sure your boating outing doesn’t turn overboard.

Bill requiring paddlesport safety course stalls, but boating laws still apply

Sendak said the single biggest mistake that Washingtonians make while out on the Puget Sound or a lake is not wearing a lifejacket. It’s a simple precaution to take — but it’s one that can make all the difference between death and survival if something goes wrong.

“Almost 80% of all fatalities — all victims in recreational boating accidents — are not wearing life vests,” Sendak said.

Lifejackets should be worn by anyone on any type of vessel, Sendak said. If you’re using a paddleboard, you should use a leash to tie yourself to the board, so that the paddleboard can be your means of floating.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a 40-foot yacht or a 16-foot fishing boat with a 15 horsepower [engine],” Sendak said. “Wear that life vest, it’s going to save your life.”

If you get to the beach and realize you’ve forgotten your lifejacket, never fear — the Washington State Parks has 200 life jacket loaner stands near popular bodies of water throughout the state.

Sendak said people also err by “not paying attention to the weather” — or rather, not studying it closely enough.

“Not understanding that the weather is more than just, ‘Oh, it’s 80 degrees and sunny out today’ — you know what, that is the big trick, right?” Sendak said. “Because you’ve got to understand the wind, and — depending on what type of water body you’re going on, if you’re going on the ocean, salt water, lakes, and rivers — you need to understand tides and currents, you need to understand where the whitewater is, and the wind is the big factor.”

You should always remember to let a loved one know what waterway you’ll be visiting and when you plan to return home.

“That way, if bad things start to happen and you don’t make it home, people know where to start looking,” Sendak said.

And while some may think sitting on a sunny boat deck goes hand in hand with cracking open a beer, the person operating the boat should never drink alcohol. You wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car when drunk — so don’t drink while behind the tiller of a boat, either.

“Just like driving a car or operating any large piece of machinery, alcohol and drugs just don’t mix when you’re operating a vessel,” Sendak said.

He noted that driving a boat while drunk can lead to impaired decisions, which can easily be dangerous when sharing the water with other vessels, or dealing with unruly seas.

“We do see fatalities that come from poor decision making,” he said.

You’ll learn many more safety tips and other pieces of critical boating knowledge when you get your Boater Education Card — a state requirement for everyone operating a 15 horsepower or greater motor vessel in Washington. Like a driver’s license, a Boater Education Card requires taking a written 75-question test. This will teach you important boating rules, like the “rules of the road.”

“Whether you are in a kayak or a 40-foot yacht or a sailboat, you have to understand who has the right-of-way in certain situations,” Sendak said. “That is one big area where we see folks — especially new boaters, and there are a lot of new boaters out there these days — where that test can help.”

While the Boater Education Card is only required for motorboats and is geared toward those types of vessels, Sendak said it includes helpful information for anyone in a kayak or on a paddleboard as well. The State Parks’ paddlesport page even offers a free course and test for human-powered watercraft.

Earlier this year, a bill in the Legislature was introduced to mandate that kayakers, canoers, and paddleboarders also get a Boater Education Card. Ultimately, however, the bill failed.

Local News

organized retail theft...

Heather Bosch

Organized retail theft leads to higher prices in the long run

Target announced it would be closing nine stores in several major cities, including two in Seattle due to theft and organized retail crime.

7 hours ago

king county collisions...

Ranji Sinha, KIRO 7 News

State patrol warns public to slow down after 98 collisions in King County since Tuesday

Washington State Patrol is asking drivers to slow down and prepare for more rainy weather after dozens of collisions have happened in the past few days.

8 hours ago

seattle police home invasions...

Bill Kaczaraba

Police make arrests in connection with South Seattle home invasions

Seattle Police (SPD) announced several arrests Wednesday that were in connection with a string of 14 armed robberies in South Seattle.

9 hours ago

everett revenge porn...

Heather Bosch

Everett resident sentenced to 6 years in prison for revenge porn campaign against ex-wife

Gregson said Crawford, 42, used multiple online accounts to send around intimate photos of his ex-wife that were taken while they were still a couple.

10 hours ago

Lake Forest Park shooting...

Bill Kaczaraba

Person shot and killed in Lake Forest Park RV

A person was shot and killed between Lake Forrest Park and Lake City. Police say that the shooting involved an RV.

12 hours ago

Seattle rain...

Bill Kaczaraba

The rain is a big reminder that fall has arrived, but there’s hope for the weekend

El Niño events tend to take place every two to seven years and reach their peak intensities between December and April.

13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Water safety tips from Washington State Parks for pandemic boating boom