Safe Boating

Photo by S. Brueske, 2007

Did you know...

Between the months of May and September, Lake Whatcom gets busy with boats, swimmers and others at play, as well as wildlife. Along with this increased use comes concerns about safety. Hundreds of boaters and swimmers can be on Lake Whatcom on a single summer day, so every measure should be taken to prevent accidents and to generally respect other lake users and residents.

You can help!

Follow these safety rules to prevent accidents and make Lake Whatcom a safe place for all lake users and residents.

Follow the speed limits

  • 6 mph at all times, if you are within 300' of docks and the shore, or within 100' of a swimmer, diver, or any non-motorized boat

  • 8 mph from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise

  • 40 mph in unrestricted areas one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset

  • The South Bay of Lake Whatcom is a "No Wake" area.

Remember who has the right-of-way

Swimmers, divers, and fallen skiers have the right-of-way over any watercraft. Similarly, a sailboat, rowboat, canoe, kayak, or any other non-motorized vessel has the right-of-way over any motor-powered vessel underway.

Carry safety equipment at all times

Personal flotation devices (PFDs) or "life jackets" that are U.S. Coast Guard approved are required to be aboard for each passenger. Children under the age of 7 must always wear a PFD when aboard any boat, motorized or not. All motorized vessels must carry an approved fire extinguisher and, if over 16' in length, a whistle.

Know who to call if there's an emergency

The Whatcom County Sheriff's Office enforces boating regulations on Lake Whatcom. A deputy Sheriff patrols the lake on weekends during the boating season. If there's an emergency or a problem on the lake, call 9-1-1.

Follow age requirements

You must be at least 10 years old to operate motorized watercraft up to 10 HP without an adult aboard. You must be 16 to operate a motorized watercraft with a motor greater than 10 HP. State law requires all Washington residents born after January 1, 1955 who operate powered watercraft 15 HP or greater, to carry a Washington Boater Education Card.

Learn about Lake Whatcom 2-Stroke Motor Restrictions

The operation of all two-stroke engine-powered watercraft on Lake Whatcom is hereafter prohibited, effective January 1, 2009, except as follows:

  • Watercraft powered by a two-stroke-powered engine whose engine is certified and labeled as meeting the 2006 or later model year United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards, as specified in Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 91.

Get your boat inspected and permitted for aquatic invasive species

Inspections are required for all watercraft operating on Lake Whatcom, including non-motorized, hand-carried watercraft, such as canoes and kayaks. Prior to launching and while operating on both lakes, all watercraft must display a valid aquatic invasive species permit. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in penalties of up to $1,000. Permits are not required for surfboards, paddle boards, and kite boards; float tubes and water sport toys; and non-motorized inflatables that are 10 feet or less in length. Visit: Whatcom Boat Inspections.

Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham have information about boating regulations for the lake. It is your responsibility to know them.


Washington Boater Education Card

Whatcom Boat Inspections

Whatcom County Sheriff's Office