Most people are aware of the DUI laws in the State of Washington. However, not everyone is aware of the laws that criminalize being under the influence while operating a boat or other vessel.
Drinking alcohol on a boat is not uncommon. However, being the captain of the vessel while being drunk or impaired is treated very seriously. Around Puget Sound, local law enforcement agencies increase their presence on the water and routinely cite boat owners and/or captains with BUI.
BUI Statute -Operating a vessel while under the influence
The traditional DUI laws are found in Title 46 of the Revised Code of Washington, which has to do with motor vehicles. The watercraft DUI laws are buried in Title 79A, which has to do with public recreational lands. While this law is obscure and not as newsworthy as a normal DUI, the watercraft BUI is cited heavily in the summer months. The amount of BUI charges are disproportionately high in costal towns like Gig Harbor.
RCW Title 79A contains regulations on random things like state horse parks and commercial skiing activities, but if you do a little digging in Title 79A, you will find RCW 79A.60.040. This is the statute that criminalizes operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Operation of vessel in a reckless manner – Operation of a vessel under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug—Consent to breath or blood test—Penalty.
The elements are as follows:
- It is unlawful for any person to operate a vessel in a reckless manner.
- It is unlawful for a person to operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug. A person is considered to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if, within two hours of operating a vessel:
- The person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or
- The person has a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s blood made under RCW46.61.506; or
- The person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug; or
- The person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, and any drug.
DUI v. BUI – Similarities and Differences
Just like in a normal DUI, an officer may administer field sobriety tests when the officer has probable cause to believe that the vessel operator is under the influence of alcohol or a drug. Further, a breath test may be administered pursuant to RCW 46.20.308. However, if a boat operator refuses the test, the consequence is much less severe than in a motor vehicle as shown below:
Refusal in a motor vehicle DUI – (1) a license suspension is imposed for not les than a year, (2) longer mandatory minimum jail time, (3) higher mandatory minimum fine, and, (4) the refusal can be argued in a future criminal trial.
Refusal in a vessel DUI – The officer warns the operator that if they refuse the breath test, the person will be issued a class 1 civil infraction under RCW 7.80.120. In other words, the consequence of refusing is just a small civil penalty. This is different (and less severe) than a motor vehicle DUI.
Lastly, a Washington BUI is a gross misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Unlike a traditional DUI, there are no mandatory minimum penalties for a BUI. Washington BUI charges are handled in District and Municipal Courts, which provide some favorable options for how to resolve the charge.
Favorable Resolutions To The BUI Charge
Most jurisdictions have some form of a Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement (or PDA), which is a contract between the Defendant and the Prosecuting Authority. With this type of Diversion Agreement, the Court does not sentence a defendant, the Court merely approves the contract between the parties (the Defendant and the Prosecutor).
If the defendant abides by the terms of the contract, the BUI charge is typically dismissed at the end of the agreed upon term. Procedurally, the case goes onto a long continuance and then ends in a dismissal – there is never a conviction if all the terms are met.
Click here for more information on a PDA
If you are facing a DUI or BUI in Kitsap County or Thurston County, we are available 7 days a week to help.