Captain Boating Licenses in Washington

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Washington State law does not require the licensure of boat operators. Instead of this so-called “captain's license,” the state requires most operators of powered boats to successfully complete a boater education course, for which they can earn a Boater Education Card. The card is meant to demonstrate that a boater possesses a minimum quality of knowledge about safely operating a motor vessel.

History and Scope

In 2005, acting in the interest of public safety, the Washington state legislature followed the lead of other states and passed a law requiring boater education for operators of most motor vessels with an engine of 15 horsepower or greater. The law does not pertain to other types of vessels.

The boater card requirement is being phased in for various age groups through 2015. As of 2011, anyone aged 35 or younger must obtain a Boater Education Card. The card is valid for life, and is transferable to other states with similar cards, as well as Canada. Similarly, cards from other states will be recognized in Washington.

Specific Requirements

To earn the Boater Education Card, boaters must attend an approved boating class. Approved classes consist of an eight-hour boating safety course at minimum, with further seamanship education encouraged. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers the classes, as does the U.S. Power Squadron, and other organizations.

After completing the classes, boaters must fill out and submit an application for a Boater Education Card to Washington State Parks, along with an application fee.


The Boater Education Card application costs $10, payable to Washington State Parks by check or money order. The costs of boating classes vary depending on the provider and the length of the instruction. To give you a rough idea, the most basic Coast Guard “About Boating Safety” course costs $25, but more comprehensive instruction can cost several times as much.


Commercial fishing boat operators are exempt from the requirement, as is anybody born before 1955. Those who have just purchased a boat have 60 days from the purchase date to obtain a card. Non-residents of Washington State are exempt from the requirement for the first 60 days of their stay, after which they must obtain the card.

If you do not have a Boater Education Card, you may still operate a motor vessel under the supervision of an adult who does have one.


About the Author

Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.

Photo Credits

  • motor boat. power boat image by L. Shat from Fotolia.com