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caption: A Gas Works Park visitor faces a clear view of the Seattle skyline on March 3, 2021. Like the park, the waterway was packed with locals enjoying the warmer weather.
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A Gas Works Park visitor faces a clear view of the Seattle skyline on March 3, 2021. Like the park, the waterway was packed with locals enjoying the warmer weather.
Credit: KUOW PHOTO/KATIE CAMPBELL

Why Washington park officials are watching carefully as warm weather arrives in the NW

The sun will be shining and temperatures will be rising this week. That means people will be heading to parks across the Seattle area and the Northwest.

Outdoor hotspots experienced a spike in activity last year as folks sought a reprieve from quarantine. Washington's lakes and rivers were very popular, even more so than usual.

"There were almost 17,000 new recreational boating vessels purchased in last year," says Rob Sendak, the boating program director at Washington State Parks. "And the mandatory boating education card that boaters are required to get if they're going to operate a vessel over 15-horsepower or more, those cards were up almost 30%."

Sendak expects that trend will continue this summer as more people get vaccinated.

But more people on the water also means more potential for injury or worse.

Twenty-four people died in recreational boating accidents in Washington last year. Sendak says the state was actually luckier than other states in terms of fatalities; his counterparts elsewhere in the country reported an uptick in such deaths.

That number includes victims who were on both motorboats and non-motorized watercraft, like paddleboards.

Sendak says few had participated in a safe boating program.

"Of those, only one actually had some formal education," he says, noting that number may not be entirely representative of everyone on the water, because human-powered watercraft users are not required to get a formal safety education.

caption: Mt. Rainier is seen from Seward Park on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Seattle.
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Mt. Rainier is seen from Seward Park on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Washington State Parks encourages everyone on the water to take a boating safety course, whether the law applies to you and your watercraft or not.

Those operating a vessel with a 15-horsepower or greater motor are required to carry a boater education card, with some exceptions.

A complete list of requirements and exemptions can be found at boatered.org. There are multiple online options at varying price points for obtaining a boater education card, which itself costs $10.

However you choose to enjoy the water, Sendak says don't forget life vests.

"The big thing, in my mind, is almost 80% of those victims were not wearing life vests," Sendak said of the 24 people who died on the water last year.

Washington State Parks includes this caution on its boater education page: "Whether you cruise, sail, kayak, fish, or do yoga on a stand up paddleboard, you are responsible to know the laws and basics of boating safety."

The coronavirus pandemic means standard water safety will not be the only consideration for many visitors.

Cruise ships and proof of vaccination

caption: The UnCruise ship Legacy. The Seattle-based company plans to resume its cruises starting in late April.
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The UnCruise ship Legacy. The Seattle-based company plans to resume its cruises starting in late April.
Credit: Credit: UnCruise

If you'd rather leave the navigating to someone else, you can go to one of our local small cruise companies.

And yes, those life vests are important even when professionals are at the helm. Pandemic precautions are also key for the time being.

Passengers will probably need proof that they've been vaccinated against Covid-19 if they want to take a cruise out of Seattle this year.

If you want to take a cruise out of Seattle this year you probably need to prove you're vaccinated.

Captain Dan Blanchard's Seattle-based company *UnCruise Adventures runs small-boat cruises.

He says vaccinations will be required of all crew members in addition to guests when they hit the water in just a few weeks. He expects to welcome guests aboard on April 30.

Other small cruise companies in Seattle will also require proof of vaccination. Blanchard says they're all still waiting for final approval from the state.

Most big cruise ships don’t have anything planned this year for Seattle. Only Norwegian has a single sailing scheduled for October. And if it does sail, you'll need proof of vaccination for that one, too.

*UnCruise is a financial supporter of KUOW.