New, stricter consequences for boating under the influence in Washington State

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Washington State boasts 3,200 miles of shoreline, 7,800 lakes, and 50,000 miles of rivers and streams. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, Puget Sound has the highest per capita boat usage in the country. Given the high number of boaters in our state, the new law that went into effect on July 28, 2013 will affect many people and hopefully will increase boating safety statewide.

New boating safety bill (Senate Bill 5437) strengthens the penalties for boaters who are caught driving under the influence. The law enacts changes as follows:

· increases the penalty for Boating Under the Influence (BUI) from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and 364 days in jail.

· allows for implied consent, meaning an officer can require a boat operator to take a breath or blood test if the officer believes the operator is boating under the influence; if the operator refuses the test, they  could be issued a $1,000 civil infraction.

· gives marine law enforcement officers the ability to hold negligent or reckless boaters accountable, and gives the authority to issue citations for vessel accidents they did not witness.

· was updated to reference the breath and blood testing procedures used in DUI cases.

· was updated with marijuana references that mirror language in Initiative 502, which made the recreational use of marijuana legal.

· clarifies that a boater’s refusal to submit to a breath or blood test cannot be used as evidence in a court of law.

· clarifies that rented vessels must have all safety equipment, be properly registered, and meet all other state requirements.

To get answers to frequently asked questions about boating accidents, please see our FAQ page.

As put forth in the new law, when a law enforcement officer is investigating a vessel accident and it’s determined a boat operator caused the accident by breaking a boating safety law, the officer can arrest the operator for criminal violations or issue a citation for an infraction. Previously, law enforcement officers possessed the authority to arrest a vehicle operator for criminal violations and issue citations on land but not on the water. This new law will allow for the same authority for marine law enforcement officers.

A boat driver is considered to be under the influence of alcohol or any drug if:

· the person has 0.08 grams or more of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath as proven by a breathalyzer test;

· the person has 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol in the person's blood, as proven by a blood test; or

· the person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and any drug.

We dearly hope that these new, increased penalties will deter boaters from drinking and driving. With so many people out on Washington’s waterways, and such clear evidence that boating under the influence is just as dangerous as driving under the influence, boaters need to stay sober and aware of their surroundings to make sure a fun day out on the water doesn’t turn into a crisis.