August 7, 2013 – No one likes drunk boaters. On top of sometimes being very obnoxious, they are always a threat to the pleasure and safety of other boaters and their guests. Too often we’ve heard of tragic accidents with serious injuries and fatalities cause by someone too intoxicated to be operating some fast-moving, two-ton watercraft.With all the people who own and operate boats in our local community, there is some very important news. The State Legislature revisited the State’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law, RCW 79A.60.040, and made some significant changes all boaters need to be aware of. The changes go into effect on July 28th. With lots of hot, sunny, good-boating weather to come, it is smart to be aware of these changes.
Stiffer Consequences & New Marijuana Provision
It has previously been a misdemeanor if you are convicted of BUI, with a maximum penalty of up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. The legislature increased the severity of the crime to a gross misdemeanor, just like a DUI, with a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5000 FINE.
BUI can be committed by operating a boat while your breath or blood alcohol content is .08 or higher. Like a DUI with marijuana, BUI can be committed by operating a boat while the THC concentration of 5.0 or higher. Also like a DUI, BUI can be committed if one is under the influence of, or affected by, intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any other drug, or any combination thereof. It does not matter if the operator has a prescription for the drug they have taken.
The new law also adds an “implied consent” provision. That means that if you operate a boat in Washington waters, you are giving your consent for law enforcement to obtain a sample of your breath or blood if they have reason to believe you may be operating a boat under the influence. You have the right to refuse such a test, but not without a price. The penalty for a refusal is a $1000 fine. Furthermore, your refusal may be used against you in a criminal trial as evidence of guilt.
Be Careful Out There
Drinking alcohol while a passenger in a boat is still allowed. Open containers of alcohol are still allowed in boats (not cars). But the person operating the boat must stay in control of his or her ability to operate the boat. And they must stay within the legal limits of consumption. I would advise that it probably won’t take much to raise the suspicion of law enforcement and bring on the request of a breath or blood test. I would also advise that the safest way to enjoy an afternoon of boating is to make sure you have a responsible, competent, sober designated boat operator. Although the temptation to join in the fun may be strong, a BUI, or even worse, an accident, will take that away, and potentially a lot more under the new law. My final bit of free legal advice – do NOT drink and operate a boat.
MARK W. PROTHERO