Understanding and Following the Guidelines are Key to Continuing (and Increasing) Access, Now That Day-use Boating has Reopened

Editor’s Note: The team that brings you one of the most trusted names in cruising, Waggoner Cruising Guide, is among a group of regional publications working tirelessly to help boaters understand the details and nuances of Governor Inslee’s partial reopening of recreational boating and fishing. This week, Waggoner published a very comprehensive article that gives boaters well-rounded expectations. Paired with Waggoner’s Safe Boating Guidelines and 48° North’s recent Q & A with Washington State Parks, these resources will help boaters get on the water safely and compliantly. Thank you to Waggoner publisher, Mark Bunzel, and article authors, Leonard and Lorena Landon, for their superb work in these trying times and for the permission to republish this excellent article in full here at 48north.com


by Leonard and Lorena Landon

As of May 5th , recreational boating and fishing, with the exception of shellfish, are allowed in Washington State. State Parks and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Public Lands, including marine parks, are open for day-use. While these recreational activities are welcome, this is not a return to pre-Covid-19. Not all parks will be open. Boating activities are intended for local day-use. State guidelines ask that people recreate locally and refrain from overnight stays. There are a number of questions and implementation topics that come with this re-opening.

Recreational Boating and Stay-Home Stay-Healthy Compliance

The Governor’s April 27th proclamation declares that recreational boating is an excepted-deviation from the Stay-Home Stay-Healthy non-essential travel directive, and therefore is allowed. The Governor further stated that travel should be kept within one’s local vicinity, and guidelines ask boaters to recreate locally and refrain from overnight stays. Anchoring overnight, and overnight stays at destination marinas that are accepting guest moorage are not specifically prohibited by the Governor’s proclamation or its guidelines.

Covid-19 Safe Boating Guidelines

The state proclamation and guidelines ask boaters to use Covid-19 safe practices. See Waggoner Guide’s Safe Boating Guidelines for a complete list of Safe Boating recommendations.

State Parks and DNR Public Lands

State Parks and DNR Lands are open for day-use. This includes parks and DNR uplands, beaches, trails and facilities. Not all restrooms will be open. Boaters may use park and DNR docks, mooring buoys, and linear side-tie during the daytime, overnight stays are not allowed. Camping, visitor centers, and any accommodations on State managed lands remain closed. Some parks may remain closed until further notice. Check the State Parks website https://parks.state.wa.us/ for a list of open and closed parks. DNR boat launches and marine facilities will be open for day-use. Launch one at a time to maintain social distancing.

San Juan County Restrictions

San Juan County Council has reaffirmed their restrictions on non-residents visiting the Islands. Their prohibition on overnight accommodations in the County has been extended through May 31st and includes banning marinas from accepting boats seeking transient moorage. Their order seeks to restrict access to State Parks in San Juan County and discourage anchoring in the County. Visiting boaters are asked not to come ashore and not to provision in the Islands.


Day fishing is allowed; check Fish and Wildlife website at www.wdfw.wa.gov for opening dates for shellfish. WDFW has not opened halibut, shrimp, and shellfish and coastal (marine areas 1-4) saltwater fishing of all species is still closed.

Canada/US Border

The border remains closed to all non-essential traffic.

Marinas & Fuel Docks

Most fuel docks, deemed essential, have been open and will continue to be open to the public. Prior to May 5th , many marinas were closed to guest moorage, but a fair number have been accepting guest boats for overnight stays. After May 5th , it is expected that more marinas will be opening to guest moorage. Waggoner Guide continues to maintain an up-to-date open/closed status for marinas, parks, borders, and cruising destinations, see www.WaggonerGuide.com/covid-19 for the latest.

We welcome the opportunity to get back out on the water; however, this is not a return to normal pre-Covid-19 recreational boating. We need to make a few changes to our boating routine to be safe during Covid-19 that go beyond the everyday practices of wearing masks, social distancing, and frequent hand washing. Download the safe boating guidelines that are specifically geared to help boaters.

Questions & Answers

1. Are State Park Mooring Buoys Open?

Mooring buoys are open for day-use. Overnight stays on a mooring buoy appear to be
prohibited. In practice, State Park Rangers might not ask boaters to vacate mooring buoys for overnight stays.

2. Will I be required to vacate a Park Mooring Buoy at the end of the day?

Parks and DNR policy indicates that they have the right to ask a boater to vacate a mooring buoy at night. However, this seems impractical and is contrary to past precedent. If requested to vacate a buoy, be courteous and understanding; move to a safe nearby anchorage. If it appears unsafe to leave the secure moorage due to impending darkness, potentially unsafe nighttime sailing/motoring or sea/weather conditions, then politely request a variance in the interest of safety.

3. Are State Marine Park Docks Open?

Marine park docks are open for day-use and should not be used for overnight stays.

4. What about Anchoring?

There is no specific restriction on anchoring. Only go ashore at State Park and DNR Public Lands and only during the daytime hours. Do not go ashore at other locations where local
communities are not welcoming visitors.

5. What about boating in the San Juan Islands?

San Juan County Council extended their ban on non-residents visiting the islands through May31st and continue to prohibit any transient overnight accommodations, including marina guest moorage. Marinas in San Juan County remain closed to guest/transient moorage.

6. Are State Parks in San Juans Open?

State marine parks within San Juan County are open for day-use. Park docks, mooring buoys, linear side-tie, uplands, trails, and beaches are open for day-use.

7. What about Anchoring in the San Juans?

Anchoring is allowed but do not go ashore for any reason, this includes taking the dog on shore. Residents do not want visitors anywhere on inhabited islands. The only uplands open are state parks, and only for day-use. Refrain from going ashore at state parks where island residents reside (for example, Spencer Spit, Stuart Island, English Camp etc.).

8. What is local boating?

The State proclamation and its guidelines do not define or qualify ‘local’ in terms of distance, time, or jurisdictional boundary, such as city or county. It is left to the individual boater to determine what is local. Some things to consider might be the boat and skipper’s preparedness for the planned trip. Is the planned itinerary self-reliant and without the need of fuel, water, provisions, and contingencies? Keep in mind that San Juan County doesn’t want any visitors for any reason.

9. Can I sail/motor at night?

The state directives imply that recreational boating should be confined to daylight and daytime hours. Combine this with the State’s request to boat locally. Also, nighttime boating is inherently not as safe as daytime; and during these Covid-19 times, it is best to avoid taking risks.

10. Can I boat to a destination marina that is open to guest boaters and stay overnight?

Yes, traveling by boat for non-essential travel is allowed and staying overnight at a marina that is open for guest moorage is allowed. Check the status of your planned destination.

11. Can I stay overnight at a State Park?

No, State Parks are open for day-use only. Overnight stays are not allowed on park docks,
mooring buoys, or linear side-tie. Camping and any overnight facilities are closed.

12. Can I anchor overnight at a Marine State Park?

Yes, anchorable waters near a marine state park are available for overnight anchoring. You may only go ashore during daytime and only on state park uplands.

13. What about DNR Public Lands & Marine Facilities?

DNR Public Lands and Marine Facilities are open for day-use. This includes DNR mooring buoys, uplands, beaches, trails, and facilities.

Thanks again to the Waggoner Cruising Guide crew. Enjoy more content and information at waggonerguide.com/