A Practical Guide to Yachting in the Puget Sound

By: Fred Robinson, Esq. | |

Puget Sound is an estuary in the northwestern coast of Washington State, with approximately 2,500 miles of saltwater shoreline.  A part of the Salish Sea, Puget Sound extends approximately 100 miles from the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island and Washington in the North to the city of Olympia in the South.  It has a maximum depth of around 930 feet.  It is the second largest estuary in the United States, behind Chesapeake Bay.

Fisherman’s Terminal, located in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, is home to the North Pacific Fishing Fleet.  The cruise terminals in Seattle serve ships with scheduled service to and from Alaska.  In 2023, Seattle hosted 291 cruises, with over 900,000 passengers visiting during the six-month cruise season.


Local Taxes


Washington is one of only seven states without an income tax, and one of 46 with retail sales and use taxes.  Washington provides sales and use tax exemptions for non-resident-owned yachts that are in the state for limited periods of time.
Retail sales tax on the purchase of a yacht in Washington is only a concern if delivery occurs in this State.  Properly documented deliveries in Washington to nonresidents, followed by timely departure, are exempt from sales tax.  Such vessels can return to Washington for certain periods of time.
Generally, nonresidents may have their yachts in Washington for up to 60 days in any consecutive 12-month period without exposure to tax.  The exemption period may be extended by obtaining up to two 60-day permits within the 12-month period.
Vessel sales and use tax exemptions may also apply to nonresident-owned yachts that are in Washington exclusively for repair or refit work by filing Nonresident Vessel Repair Affidavits with the Washington Department of Revenue.  Repair Affidavits are good for 60 days and are renewable.


Pilotage and Waivers


Information on pilotage exemptions for vessels in Puget Sound are available on the Washington Board of Pilotage Commissioners’ website, www.pilotage.wa.gov.  A U.S. flag vessel on a foreign voyage (not including British Columbia) is not automatically exempt from Washington Pilotage (i.e., a vessel sailing under a registry endorsement), but certain such vessels may apply for an exemption with the Board.



Moorage is available throughout the Puget Sound area.  Lake Washington, the Ship Canal, and Seattle’s Lake Union have fresh-water moorage.  Seattle has moorage for yachts up to 300 feet in length.  Among marinas in Seattle with moorage for superyachts and other vessels are Elliot Bay Marina, Salmon Bay Marina, and the Port of Seattle.  Temporary moorage is also available at many shipyards, repair facilities, and other marinas in Seattle.




Seattle’s Pike Place market, located above the downtown waterfront, is not only a very popular tourist stop; it also offers a great selection of fresh local foods.  For those needing large quantities and/or long-term provisions, there are several provisioning companies based in Seattle.  Also, Seattle boasts Costco’s first warehouse location, just three miles south of the downtown core.


Local Sources


The Northwest Marine Trade Association and the Pacific Northwest Captain’s Association (Dan Wood) are good sources of knowledge and information on the Northwest region’s yachting industry, including local yacht brokers and locally based shipyards, marinas, and repair facilities.


Yacht Builders and Repairs


Washington State is home to a number of custom and production yacht builders.  Among the biggest builders are Christensen Shipyard, Delta Marine Industries, Nordlund Boat, and Westport Shipyard.  Many refit and repair facilities are accessible throughout Puget Sound, including those located in Port Angeles and Westport.


Air Travel


Seattle is home to Alaska Airlines.  Sea-Tac Airport is 15 miles south of downtown Seattle.  Boeing Field, located in South Seattle, is home to private flight, charter and helicopter services, and also offers passenger service in smaller airplanes, including seaplanes.  Kenmore Air’s fleet of seaplanes have regularly scheduled and charter flight services throughout Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands in Washington, and many locations in British Columbia.

Disclaimer: This article is only a general overview and is not intended as legal advice.  Consult a Washington-licensed attorney for analysis and application of the State laws to your specific circumstances. 

Fred Robinson

Fred Robinson is the principal attorney at Robinson Law Firm, www. frobinsonlawfirm.com.  He practices exclusively in yacht law, representing clients on matters involving vessel acquisition, ownership structures, usage, and taxation.