Washington boaters could face fines of up to $5,000 and almost a year in jail for operating vessels while impaired, under a new law taking effect this weekend.
The law, which takes effect this Sunday, July 28, is aimed at improving boating safety in Washington waters and making it easier for law enforcement officers to arrest impaired boaters. Under the law:
- A BUI conviction becomes a gross demeanor punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and/or 364 days in jail.
- Officers with probable cause can ask a boat operator to submit to a breathalyzer test. If the operator refuses to take the test, he/she will be issued a class 1 civil infraction.
- The maximum penalty for refusal to take a breathalyzer test will be $1,000; however a public safety and education assessment under state law adds 105 percent to the penalty, so the total fine could be up to $2,050.
- A boat operator’s refusal cannot be used as evidence in a subsequent criminal trial.
- Marijuana references relevant to Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use of pot, are applicable. The legal limit for boating under the influence of marijuana is 5 nanograms per milliliter.
Additionally, the law requires rental boats to be outfitted with minimum safety equipment required for other boats, such as life jackets, fire extinguishers and signaling devices. The law clarifies what those requirements are for rented vessels and prohibits boat rental companies from charging a separate fee for providing the equipment.
The most common type of boating accident in Washington state is a boat collision — either with another vessel or a fixed object, according to the state Parks & Recreation Commission. The most common cause of those accidents is operator inattention or a related violation of boating rules of the road.
Under the law, an office investigating a boating accident can now issue a citation to the boater at fault even if the officer did not witness the accident. Officers would typically make that determination during the course of an investigation as they do with accidents on land.