Safe boating means knowing the rules

The information below contains summaries of selected watercraft regulations for Pierce County. The complete text of these regulations can be found at Chapter 8.8 of the Pierce County Code, RCW 79A.60 and WAC 352-60.

Vessel Registration

All vessels, including personal watercraft, are required to carry the registration certificate on board. The vessel registration expiration date is June 30 of every year. Numbers must be displayed on the forward half of the vessel in 3-inch block numbers and be clearly visible from another vessel.

Legal Age of Operation

Unless under the direct supervision of their parent or legal guardian who is on board the vessel, a person younger than 16 cannot operate any vessel with greater than 10 horsepower.

All persons operating a personal watercraft in Pierce County must be at least 16 years old unless they are under the direct supervision of a parent or legal guardian who is also on board, in which case the minimum age is 14 years old.

Prohibited Operations

It is illegal to operate a vessel while under the influence of, or when affected by, an intoxicating liquor or narcotic; it is illegal for the owner or person in charge of a vessel to authorize or knowingly permit the vessel to be operated if the operator is under the legal age of operation.

Reckless Operation of Vessels

It will be considered reckless operation of a vessel when the vessel is operated in such manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any persons or property.

This includes, but is not limited to: operating within 100 feet of shore or a public swimming area; overloading; operating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs; excessive speed in violation of stated speed restrictions; operating in clearly dangerous waters; operating without proper lights at night; bow, seat back, gunwale or transom riding when going more than 5 mph unless the vessel is specifically designed for that purpose; continued use or refusal to terminate use of boat after being ordered to correct an especially hazardous condition by a law enforcement officer.

Personal Flotation Device

All vessels shall carry at least one wearable United State Coast Guard-approved type I, II or III personal flotation device (PFD) for every person on board, regardless of the vessel size. Every child 12 years old or under shall wear an approved PFD while on board any vessel, except while in a cabin. The PFD must be in good and serviceable condition and sized properly for the intended wearer and stored so that it is immediately available.

In addition, vessels 16 feet and over must have a minimum of one USCG-approved type IV PFD. Type V and V-hybrid devices may be used, but must be worn to be legal.

Sound Producing Device

Every vessel must have on board a sound producing device like a horn, whistle or bell.

Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers must be readily accessible. Motorized vessels less than 26 feet must carry at least one B-1 type USCG-approved fire extinguisher. A vessel 26 feet but less than 40 feet, two extinguishers; 40 feet and longer, three extinguishers. One B-II type can be substituted for two B-I extinguishers.

These are not required on vessels with outboard motors if the gas tank is not permanently installed and if there are no areas where vapors could be entrapped.

If a portable tank is held down in any fashion, it is considered a permanent tank.

Visual Distress Signals

It is highly recommended that all vessels carry visual distress signals.

Speed Related Laws

Five mph or less when within 200 feet of shore, docks, bridges or public swimming areas, within 100 feet of swimmers or boats, or within 300 feet of a public boat launch.

Eight mph or less when between legal sunset and legal sunrise and not in a 5 mph area, except Puget Sound. No operation allowed when within 300 feet behind a skier, within 200 feet in front of a vessel pulling skiers, within 100 feet when alongside a skier or within 100 feet of public or private bathing or swimming areas when the area is marked by buoys or some other device.

Damaging Wake

Operators are responsible for any damage or injuries caused by the wake of their vessel.

Direction of Travel

All vessels on fresh water shall keep the closest shore to the operator's starboard or right-hand side for a counter-clockwise direction of travel.

Taking off and landing laws

Taking off and landing shall be done perpendicular or as near to perpendicular as possible, and at no time less than a 45 degree angle to any shore, dock or other launching facility.

Water Skier Related Laws

The vessel must have a competent operator who must be attentive to the duties of operating a vessel.

The vessel must be manned by a competent skier observer who must be facing the skier at all times.

No skiing is permitted between sunset and sunrise.

All skiers shall wear a USCG approved personal flotation device.

This information and much more is available at the Pierce County Auditors Web site,

At all times when a skier is down in the water, a flag, red or international orange in color, one foot by one foot, and attached to a two-foot pole, must be displayed.

No skiing is permitted between sunset and sunrise.

All skiers shall wear a USCG approved personal flotation device.

No water skiing, including taking off and landing, shall be permitted within 300 feet of any public boat launching area or fueling dock designated swimming area at a public park or a private designated swimming area. At no time will a vessel pulling a skier have any special privileges over any other vessel.

Accident Reports

The operator of any vessel involved in any accident that causes an injury or death to any person, or damages any property, shall stop and give full identification to both the operator and vessel and render any assistance necessary. The owner or operator of any vessel involved in an accident where death, personal injury requiring medical treatment, or with property damage in excess of $500 shall file a written boating accident report within 48 hours with the Sheriff's Department.

Unsafe Vessels

Law enforcement officers can order an unsafe vessel back to shore. Unsafe conditions are, but not limited to: insufficient lifesaving (PFD) devices, insufficient fire fighting devices, overloading conditions, improper navigation light display, fuel leakage, fuel in the bilge, improper ventilation, improper backfire flame control.

Class A Lakes: Lake Tapps, Alder Lake, and Lake Kapowsin

Lake Tapps-Lake Ridge Cove - the maximum speed is 5 mph except for the purpose of taking off and landing water skiers from property along the cove. You must approach the entrance at a right angle for at least 200 feet. Vessels exiting the cove have priority over vessels entering the cove. The channel must be clear prior to entering the cove. Vessels shall keep to the right half of the entrance and the skier must stay directly behind the vessel.

If the entrance is obstructed, unsafe, or it is unlawful to proceed, the vessel shall come to a complete stop and pick up the skier. No wading, swimming, taking off or landing of water skiers is permitted with 100 feet in either direction from the entrance to the cove.

Pierce County Sheriff Marine Services Unit Boating Hotline: 253-798-3300

This information and much more is available at the Pierce County Auditors Web site,

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