Puget Sound Boating & Cruising Guide
Puget Sound is an inlet located in the Pacific Ocean and the Salish Sea that cuts into northwestern Washington, right near the city of Seattle. It is the second largest estuary in the United States, only after the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia.
Puget’s average water depth is 450 feet deep, with the Sound running 95 miles in length and has an estimated 1,330 miles of shoreline. Three primary basins make up the sound, including: Whidbey Basin, South Sound, and Main Basin.
If you’re interested in boating, cruising, or sailing in and around Puget Sound, this guide will help provide a general overview with everything you should know:
- Popular local boating destinations
- Washing state boating laws and regulations
- Education requirements for boaters
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Puget Sound Boating Map
- Bloedel Reserve (on Bainbridge Island) is well-know for its 150-acre forest garden—all just a quick thirty-minute boat ride from Seattle. Here, you’ll find hiking trails (many of which are disability-friendly), well-maintained Japanese Gardens, tours of the manor, and you’ll get the chance to learn all about the history of the Bloedel Family who started it all. You can bring your boat instead of the ferry to see even more of the island from the water.
- Blake Island Marine State Park is a 475-acre state park that offers fantastic views of the Seattle skyline and offers lots of hiking trails, beach walks, and gorgeous kayaking spots. Boating in and around Blake Island is a treat because you have the scenery all around you. You can look over and see the hustle and bustle of Seattle or slow down and enjoy nature on Blake Island. Mount Ranier is visible many days and gives you a stunning backdrop to your Puget Sound adventure.
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- Johnson Farm (on Anderson Island) was established in 1896 by Finnish immigrants John and Alma Marie. Today this spot is regarded as a historical site. Dozens of original buildings, farm equipment, and machinery still dot the farm and give you a glimpse into farm life in the late 1800s to mid-1900s. Take a docent tour, visit the gift shop, wander through the museum, or check out one of their many events ranging from farmers markets to concerts, exercise classes, and garden club get-togethers.
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- Point Defiance Park is known for beautiful boat cruises, fishing spots, yacht clubs, gorgeous beaches, bay views, and convenient ferries that go to Vashon Island and back. The park is 760 acres of urban park paradise and a hotspot for boat enthusiasts. Nearly three million people visit the park every year. Be sure to stop at Point Defiance Marina as it has great amenities, a fishing pier, and a convenient eight-lane boat launch.
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- Deception Pass State Park is a 3,854-acre park is the most visited state park in all of Washington State. It is filled with quiet, secretive coves, jagged cliffsides, 33,900 feet of freshwater shorelines, 77,000 feet of saltwater shorelines, breathtaking lakes, clean streams, and 38 miles of pristine hiking trails, and of course, the famous high bridge. The Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail runs through here and stretches from Cape Alva at the Pacific Ocean to Montana’s Glacier National Park.
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Boating Laws in Puget Sound
It is important to carefully follow all rules and regulations for any body of water you enter, and to respect fellow boaters and the natural wildlife that calls the area home. Here’s a few important factors to keep in mind.
Make space for whales
- Stay at least 300 yards away from whales and at least 400 yards from the path behind or in front of whales. Slow down to seven knots or less when you are within a half mile of them.
- Use the whale warning flag. Turn off fish finders and depth sounders if you see a whale or a whale flag. This equipment is painfully noisy and disruptive for the whales.
- Check out Whale Wise to learn more about how to stay safe, protect the whales, and all the rules and regulations that surround whales.
No waste or sewage dumping
- Boats that are over twenty-six feet long must display a MARPOL trash placard. Vessels that are over forty feet must have a written Waste Management Plan onboard and stick to it. No trash can be thrown overboard in Puget Sound. Failure to comply can result in up to a five-year sentence, a $50,000 fine, plus $25,000 in civil penalties.
- Raw untreated sewage has to be properly disposed of via a pump-out station or an official mobile pump-out service. Discharging sewage in Puget Sound or any of its freshwater tributaries will result in a $2,000 fine.
- Intentionally draining oil or oil waste can lead to a $20,000 per day per violation fine, plus the cost of environmental cleanup, damage, and property repairs.
Use eco-friendly (or non-toxic) products
The ecosystem in Puget Sound is delicate. Many common products are dangerous, even deadly, to marine life. It is illegal to discharge or allow the discharge of any pollutant. Pollutants are anything that changes the chemical, physical, or biological nature of the water it enters.
Here are easy swaps to make to keep Puget Sound healthy and keep you out of trouble:
- Swap detergent and soap for water and extra scrubbing (elbow grease).
- Swap scouring powders for baking soda.
- Swap brass cleaner for Worcestershire sauce or a paste made of equal parts salt, vinegar, and water.
- Swap copper cleaner for lemon juice or salt.
- Swap hand cleaner for baby oil.
- Swap fiberglass cleaner for baking soda paste.
Washington State Boating Education Requirements
- Anyone born before January 1st, 1955, does not need the Boater Education Card. Personal watercraft can only be operated by those at least 14 years old. You cannot lease, rent, or hire a personal watercraft to anyone under the age of sixteen.
- Children 12 years or older can operate a motorboat of fifteen horsepower or greater with a Washington Boater Education Card. Without a card, the child can drive with the supervision of someone at least 16 and carry their card.
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