In Washington State there is no law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol while operating a boat, vessel or personal watercraft. However, the vessel operator is not allowed to drive while intoxicated. In Washington when a vessel operator’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 percent or greater they are considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol or BUI. Washington State BUI laws do not apply to persons in inner tubes, air mattresses, sailboards, small rafts, flotation devices or swimming toys.
Previously a person operating a watercraft who was suspect of boating under the influence (BUI) could refuse a breath test without fear of penalty. A person who was suspected of a BUI suffered no consequences for refusing a breath test. And if a person was convicted of BUI the charge was a “simple” misdemeanor which was punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Washington States BUI Law Has Changed
Washington State’s new BUI law goes into effect on July 28, 2013. The new law adds what is called “implied consent” language to RCW 79A.60.040. Under the new law anyone that is operating a vessel in Washington State (on any pond, river, lake, channel, marina, waterway, etc.) is deemed to have consented to undergo a breath or blood test to check for levels of alcohol, marijuana (pot) or other substances. The law enforces implied consent by providing that anyone suspected of BUI who refuses a breath test will be guilty of a Class 1 civil infraction, and subject to a monetary penalty of $1,000. IF the arresting officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person is boating under the influence the driver must submit to the “official” breath test conducted with a BAC DataMaster testing unit. A vessel operator does NOT have to submit to the portable, hand-held, breath testing unit that is typically carried by marine patrols, and is often referred to as an Alcosensor, however they may voluntarily take such tests. In addition the new law now classifies BUI as a “gross” misdemeanor, carrying maximum penalties of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.