Washington State is home to a significant boating population. That fact is not a surprise to individuals living in the Western half of the state. From the Columbia river to the South, to the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean to the West, Washington’s boating community is prominent and diverse. A short stroll to any open bit of coastline in Seattle will reveal one of two things. A marina, packed with motor and sailing yachts, or a fish market. Cruisers and racers come to Washington from all over the world (primarily in the summer months) to marvel at the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Washington has hundreds of islands along its Pacific Coast, many of which are only accessible by privately-owned boats.

Washington’s Coast provides for more than just tourism, however.  Commercial and sport fishing bring about $2.5 billion into the state every year, well ahead of most of the country. In addition, the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are two of the largest in the country, and bring in several million tons of commercial shipping every year. Not to be outdone, Washingtonians registered 234,035 boats in 2016. The boating participation rate in Washington is massive, with very nearly 40% of Washington residents boating yearly. That is just about double the national average. In addition, 30% own their vessel, which is also significantly higher than most of the country. No matter what kind of boat activity you’re looking for, you can find it in Washington.

Washington Boat Insurance

So, Are you required to purchase Washington boat insurance? It may surprise you, but much like 47 other states, the state of Washington does not require boat insurance for recreational vessels. The Washington state government does highly recommend insurance, however, and we certainly do too. You may find that you don’t have a choice. Certain situations will require you to buy Washington boat insurance:

  1. Loans: If you purchase a boat in Washington with a loan, your lender will probably require Washington boat insurance. In fact, if your lender doesn’t require some level of insurance, you probably shouldn’t trust that lender. Your lender has a very good reason to require insurance on your boat. They are several thousand (or hundred thousand) dollars in the red on your loan until it is paid off. If your boat sinks or gets wrecked in an accident, they don’t want to lose that money. Your policy will usually list the bank or other lender as the lien-holder. If an accident occurs, your insurance check will then list the lender as the co-payee.
  2. Marinas: Most marinas, yacht clubs, and dockyards across Washington require insurance to dock. Much like lenders, marinas’ reasons are entirely practical. If your boat damages some other boat on their property, they want you to be able to cover it financially. Marinas do not want to be dragged into any litigation. They would prefer that their customers’ insurance companies mediate any collisions. You may be able to get away with a short term mooring without notice. However, a stay of any length will almost certainly prompt interest in your boat’s insurance status.

Small Boat Insurance

Obviously you don’t need to worry about marina requirements if you keep your boat on a trailer or in a garage. If that’s the case, does Washington boat insurance still make sense for you? It’s a reasonable question. 20% of Washington residents use kayaks or canoes. Kayaks are becoming the go-to affordable fishing platforms in much of the U.S., primarily in states without large, carnivorous water-reptiles. In addition, plenty of people have paid off their pontoon or speed boat, and simply launch them when they go boating. We highly recommend insurance for everyone, even for those with smaller vessels.

Liability Coverage

The case is easy to make for speed boats. Even if you don’t want insurance on your own vessel, you absolutely want liability insurance for both property damage and personal injury. Anything that goes fast can go too fast, and accidents on the water can be ruinous. You can generally find liability coverage at an affordable rate, and it can save you thousands. That is especially important for any boat you lend to others. If someone injures themselves or someone else on your vessel, you can be held liable, even if you were not present. In addition, speed boats, Jet Ski’s, and pontoon boats can get expensive very quickly. If your vessel is damaged or sinks, you want a policy to help you recoup the damages. You can read more about power boat insurance here, or pontoon boat insurance here if you remain unconvinced.

Self-Propelled Boats

The argument for insurance is strong, even for canoes and kayaks. If you and your family are the only operators, you may decide that you don’t need liability insurance, as you’re unlikely to hit anything hard enough to cause damage. We do still recommend it, given the unpredictability of boating, and you should certainly buy it if you lend your kayak or canoe to anyone. Furthermore, you may want to insure your kayak itself, to protect it from theft or vandalism. Many fishing canoes and kayaks can cost $1-2k. If someone steals it off your car or out of your garage, you want to be able to replace it. For more information on kayak insurance, Click Here.

The Stats

Washington has seen an impressive drop of nearly 20% in boating accidents from 2014-2016. That is an encouraging trend, and is worth applauding. With so much recreational boat traffic and commercial fishing activity, accidents are more common than they are in many other states that see primarily recreational boat usage. Accidents in Washington get expensive too. Damages from reported accidents in 2016 added up to $1,761,740. On average, that’s about $18,000, and many of them cost far more. Boat insurance for most of us is a fraction of that cost. No one plans on getting into an accident. If you do, though, you want to be insured.

Washington boating accident statistics

Boating Fatalities and Alcohol

Washington also suffers more fatalities every year than most of the country. The boating fatality rate in Washington is a couple points higher than the national average. Last year, nearly 20% of all boating accidents in Washington were fatal. Now, these statistics are skewed somewhat by Washington’s commercial fishing trade. Pacific fishing is a dangerous trade. Boats had out in all kinds of weather, and face conditions that most of us can’t imagine. Nevertheless, any boating death is one too many. Every time we leave shore, we take on certain risks, and need to remain alert to protect our vessel, ourselves, and those around us.

Alcohol greatly inhibits our ability to remain alert and respond to crises. In 2016, more than 10% of all boating accidents in Washington were attributed to alcohol. Over 15% of Washington’s boating deaths occurred in accidents in which alcohol was a contributing factor. Any time you head out on the water, make sure you designate an operator who doesn’t drink.

Obviously insurance can’t protect you from every eventuality. We know that. We know that it stings to pay for something you hope you’ll never need. Insurance doesn’t keep you from getting into an accident, but it can help you if one occurs. It helps protect you and your family financially if something goes wrong. Insurance is usually affordable, and it can save you thousands.