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  • Writer's pictureFrederick M. Robinson

The Ultimate Guide to Superyacht-ing in the Puget Sound

Washington State’s Puget Sound is the gateway for cruising Pacific Northwest waters. Puget Sound (“Sound”) extends approximately 100 miles from the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island and Washington in the North to Olympia in the South, with an average depth of 450 feet. It is the second largest estuary in the United States, behind Chesapeake Bay. The Sound area has a population of 4.5 million.

Fisherman’s Terminal, located in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, is home to the North Pacific Fishing Fleet. Seattle’s cruise terminals serve ships with scheduled service to and from Alaska. In 2016, Seattle is expected to host 203 cruise ships and nearly 960,000 passengers. Seattle is also home to the Pacific Northwest’s superyacht industry.

Early History

Native Americans have lived on the Sound’s 2,500 miles of protected shoreline for thousands of years harvesting salmon and shellfish from its waters. Elk, deer, bear and other animals were hunted and trapped in the 1000 year old cedar and Douglas Fir forests ringing the Sound.

George Vancouver, an English officer of the Royal Navy, at the age of 34, discovered the Sound and named it for his aide, Peter Puget, who explored it. In his 1791-1795 expedition, Vancouver explored and charted North America’s Northwestern Pacific Coast region including Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska.

Seattle, the Sound’s largest city, is named after Native American Chief Seattle. Seattle was born in 1786 on or near Blake Island, located just west of downtown in Seattle’s Elliott Bay. Explore Native American Heritage throughout the Sound, and visit Tillicum Village on Blake Island. And, be sure to try cedar-planked Salmon, a Northwest favorite.

Pilotage and Waivers.

The Washington Board of Pilotage Commissioners website is found at Automatic pilotage exemptions for vessels in Puget Sound are in place for:

1) U.S. flag vessels operating exclusively on coastwise and/or recreational endorsement;

2) U.S. or Canadian flag vessels engaged exclusively in coastwise trade on the west coast of the continental United States (including Alaska) and or British Columbia (B.C.); and

3) Any flag vessels in/outbound to/from Canadian ports which employ a pilot licensed by the Pacific Pilotage Authority (B.C. Pilots); uses the C.U.T.S; and has appropriate charts.

A U.S. flag vessel on a foreign voyage (not including B.C.) 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.

The following may apply for a board approved exemption. These include:

1) Any flag small passenger vessel not more than 500 GT (ITC) and not more than 200 feet overall length operated exclusively in the Puget Sound Pilotage District and lower B.C.; and

2) Any flag yacht not more than 500 GT (ITC) and not more than 200 feet overall length.

Local Taxes

Washington, one of only seven states without an income tax, is one of forty-six with retail sales and use taxes. Washington provides sales and use tax exemptions for nonresident owned yachts.

Retail sales tax on the purchase of a yacht in Washington is only a concern if delivery occurs here. Properly documented deliveries in the state to nonresidents, followed by timely departure are exempt from sales tax.

Nonresidents may have their yachts in Washington for up to 60 days in any consecutive 12-month period. Vessels owned by nonresident individuals may be in Washington for up to 180 days in any consecutive 12-month period, if state permits are obtained before the 61st day. Each permit is good for 60 days.

Beginning September 1, 2015, nonresident entities may qualify to purchase up to two 60-day permits allowing vessels to extend their stay to a maximum of six months in any consecutive 12-month period. However, a nonresident entity owned vessel may not receive more than two permits within any 36-month period. Given the limitation on their issuance and frequency of use, planning options may better serve superyacht owners.

Vessel retail sales and use tax exemptions can be extended for nonresident owned yachts in Washington for repair or refit work if Non-Resident Vessel Repair Affidavits (each good for 60 days), are filed with the Washington Department of Revenue. Repair affidavits are renewable. Because this is only a brief overview of possible tax exemptions, owners and captains whose yachts will be in Washington for up to 60 days in any consecutive 12-month period are well advised to seek professional guidance, before entry or early in the visit, to avoid sales and use tax exposure.


Moorage for larger superyachts is concentrated in the Seattle area. It is available in other areas of the Sound too. Seattle’s Lake Union and Ship Canal have fresh water moorage.

Moorage for yachts up to 500’ in length is available in Seattle. Marinas with superyacht moorage in Seattle include: Elliott Bay Marina; Salmon Bay Marina; and the Port of Seattle.

Several facilities in the North part of the Sound have superyacht moorage including:

Roche Harbor Marina on San Juan Island which has moorage for up to 150’ yachts; Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes – 130’ vessels; Port Townsend Boat Haven - 100’ vessels; and Point Roberts Marina – 130’ vessels; Dock Street Marina, 30 miles South of Seattle in Tacoma, has moorage for vessels up to 125’ in length.


Seattle’s Pike Place Market above the downtown waterfront is not only a very popular tourist stop, but also offers a great selection of fresh local foods. For those needing large quantities and/or long-term provisions, LaCasse Maritime, LLC (Greg Mosley and Ria Kapuscinski) based in the Puget Sound area is a West Coast global crew and vessel agency. It also provides provisioning, guide services and logistical support. Also, Seattle boasts Costco’s first warehouse location, just three miles south of the downtown core and is frequented by visiting superyacht crew members.

Washington Wines

Washington is home to over 900 wineries and is the 2nd largest wine producer in the U.S. The state’s growers are concentrated in Eastern Washington, but many have tasting rooms around the Sound. An extensive list of wineries, vineyards, tasting rooms and wine shops is found at

Local Knowledge

The Northwest Marine Trade Association (Peter Schrappen) and the Pacific Northwest Captain’s Association (Dan Wood) are good sources of local knowledge, in addition to local shipyards and repair facilities.

Super Yacht Builders

Washington State is home to a number of custom and production superyacht builders. The biggest are: Christensen Shipyard; Delta Marine Industries; Nordlund Boat; and Westport Shipyard.

Refits and Repairs

Puget Sound also has many refit and repair facilities, too numerous to mention. Owners and captains can search the internet and get recommendations from those with local knowledge.

Superyacht Photography

The Seattle area is home to Neil Rabinowitz, a world-renowned marine, lifestyle and adventure sports photographer. Neil has photographed in over 100 countries and his photographs are regularly found in superyacht magazines and yacht charter materials worldwide. Neil can assist captains and owners with suggestions for interesting locations to visit and access to areas with the best photoshooot possibilities to preserve any Northwest voyaging experience.

Air Travel

Seattle is home to Alaska Airlines. Sea-Tac airport, 15 miles south of downtown Seattle, is home to many national and international air carriers. And Boeing Field, just a few miles south of downtown Seattle has limited regularly scheduled passenger service, but is home to air cargo, private flight, charter and helicopter services. Smaller airports around Puget Sound also serve as regional air carriers.

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, Canada. Kenmore Air also offers scenic flight tours.


Fred Robinson is an attorney practicing with Robinson Law Firm, PLLC based in Seattle. The firm represents yacht owners nationally and internationally in dealing with a variety of matters, such as vessel taxation.

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