What are aquatic invasive species?

Aquatic invasive species are non-native plants, animals, and pathogens that live primarily in water, thrive in a new environment, and cause economic loss, environmental damage, and harm to human health.

Why are boat inspections so important and what are inspectors looking for?

Boat inspections are so important because they can help us to prevent the transport of aquatic invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, to Whatcom County lakes. These mussels are transported on boats travelling from infested waters and can result in significant impacts to lake ecosystems, water quality, and water supply infrastructure, and can make shoreline areas hazardous and uninviting for recreational users and property owners.

To prevent the introduction of these mussels and other aquatic invasive species, inspectors are on the lookout for any animal or plant material on the watercraft that may pose a risk to Whatcom County waters. The inspector will ask you several questions about your boat and launching history and will then visually and physically inspect your boat for any evidence of aquatic invasive species. The hull, trailer, and interior compartments of your boat will be inspected. Inspectors will be ensuring that your boat has been cleaned, drained, and dried because some aquatic invasive species larvae can be transported on damp gear or in standing water.

How long does an inspection take and what should I expect when I arrive at the inspection station?

Inspections are done on a first come, first-served basis and can take anywhere from five to 15 minutes depending on the complexity of the boat and how prepared you are. Remember to clean, drain, and dry your boat after every use – including the engine outdrive, bilge, ballast tanks, live wells and storage compartments. Clean up any oil, dirt or debris inside bilges and storage compartments, and remove all items inside these compartments prior to arriving for your inspection. If you follow these simple steps, your inspection will be completed very quickly.

When you arrive at the inspection station, an inspector will greet you and ask you several questions about your boat and launching history. They will then visually and physically inspect your boat for any evidence of aquatic invasive species inside all of the compartments of your watercraft as well as on the outside of your vessel. Once the inspection is complete, the inspector will inform you whether the boat requires decontamination prior to being launched.

Unlimited inspection services are included as part of your permit fees. If you are planning on returning to the same location on your next visit, we encourage you to ask an inspector about our Wire Seal Program to speed up your next launch.

What can I do to make my boat inspection a quick and simple process?

Make sure your boat is cleaned, drained, and dried before showing up at the inspection station. Remove any gear or equipment from internal compartments ahead of time and make sure all compartments are clean, drained, and dry. Consider only using your boat at Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish this season and you can participate in our Wire Seal Program and go through an expedited inspection process on your next visit.

What is a boat decontamination and how long does it take?

Boat decontaminations are conducted when a boat does not pass inspection and is thought to be carrying something that poses a threat to Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish. The Whatcom Aquatic Invasive Species Program is offering several different decontamination options for boaters depending on the level of decontamination required.

  • For boats that are coming from local waterbodies and are found to be carrying plant fragments, inspectors will remove the fragment and clean the area in question onsite for no charge.
  • For boats that require a higher level of decontamination or that may have been in infested waters, boat owners/operators will be required to have their boat professionally decontaminated by our staff for a fee of $25. The decontamination will involve the boat and its systems being flushed using 120 to 140 degree water to destroy any possible remaining invasive species that might pose a risk to Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish.

Do I need to have my non-motorized canoe or kayak inspected?

Yes. If you are a non-motorized, hand-carried watercraft owner or operator, you will be required to get your watercraft inspected and to purchase an annual permit starting in 2014. You can do your part by cleaning, draining, and drying your watercraft and gear after each use, and properly disposing of any plants or debris that you find either in the trash or above the waterline.

Permits are not required for surfboards, paddle boards, and kite boards; float tubes and water sport toys; and inflatables that are 10 feet or less in length.

Do people who live on Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish or only use their boats on these lakes need to have their boats inspected and permitted?

Yes, though once inspected for the year they would need no further inspection as long as their boat remains in the water, at the dock, or on its trailer at the residence. All vessels must display a valid aquatic invasive species permit when launching and while operating on Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish. Take advantage of the on-site program and have inspectors come to you! Call (360) 778-7975 for more information.

I recently purchased a boat from out of the area. What do I need to do to ensure it doesn't pose a risk to our local lakes?

We are seeing a surge in the number of Whatcom County residents who have recently purchased a boat from outside of Washington. Many of these boats have recently been used or tested in waters infested with invasive mussels. If you recently purchased a boat, call our hotline at (360) 778-7975 to schedule your inspection (and possible decontamination) and avoid delays at the launch.

  • What kind of boat is it? Does it have ballast tanks or bags?
  • Where and when was the boat last in the water?
  • Was it moored or just used for day use?
  • How and when was it transported to Washington?
  • Was it inspected and/or decontaminated anywhere on the way to Washington?

Do you have a special rate for events?

If you are planning on hosting an event at Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish, such as a bass tournament or a sailing race, you may qualify for a special event pass. Special event passes entitle each event participant to inspection and sealing services for the duration of the event. These passes are subject to terms and conditions of a Special Event Agreement. For more information or to find out if your event qualifies, contact the Boat Inspection Hotline at 778-7975.

What are my payment options?

Permits may be purchased at inspection locations by credit/debit card (No cash or checks). If you have taken the online course you will need to bring your certificate to an inspection location to get your discount. If getting your vessels inspected by appointment at your residence, you may pay by credit/debit card. Permits may also be purchased online or by credit/debit card at the City of Bellingham Finance Department, 210 Lottie Street, Bellingham, WA 98225, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday No cash or checks.

How is this program being funded?

This program is being partially funded by inspection and decontamination fees. Additional funding comes from the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District, the City of Bellingham, and Whatcom County.

What does the law say about aquatic invasive species?

The transport and release of aquatic invasive species into waters within the jurisdictions of the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County is prohibited. City and County staff are authorized to conduct inspections to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species into local waters. Any individual who launches a watercraft in violation of local ordinances may face penalties of up to $1,000 and may be held responsible for the response and mitigation costs expended by the City of Bellingham or Whatcom County. Additionally, the transport of aquatic invasive species into Washington can result in fines of up to $5,000 and up to a year in jail. Intentionally bringing aquatic invasive species into Washington can result in even greater fines and jail time.

Starting in 2014, all watercraft are required to be inspected for aquatic invasive species and to display a valid aquatic invasive species permit sticker prior to launching and while operating on Lake Whatcom or Lake Samish. This new requirement includes non-motorized, hand-carried watercraft such as canoes and kayaks. Permits will not be required for surfboards, paddle boards, and kite boards; float tubes and water sport toys; and inflatables that are 10 feet or less in length.

Whatcom County Code 2.27A
Bellingham Municipal Code 12.12.280

Did you know?

In 2007, quagga mussels were discovered in Lake Mead, 1,000 miles farther west than any other known quagga mussel infestation at the time.

Tsunami AIS

Aquatic invasive species can be spread by tsunami debris. Some of the debris from Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake has already begun to arrive on our shores with aquatic hitchhikers on board!

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