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Boating Under the Influence in Washington State

On Behalf of | Dec 15, 2018 | DUI

Boating Under the Influence in Washington State

Operating any type of vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is considered a crime. This includes operating a boat while intoxicated.

In the State of Washington, Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is a gross misdemeanor. However, unlike other gross misdemeanors, a BUI conviction won’t result in a driver’s license suspensions.

If someone has been arrested for operating a boat after drinking or while under the influence, it helps to know what to expect and to know what their rights are.

Gross Misdemeanor Charge

Under RCW 79A.060.010(29), a vessel’s operator cannot have a breath or blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater. It is likewise illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher or while under the influence of marijuana or other intoxicants. Anyone who breaks the law is subject to arrest and prosecution.

An individual stopped in Washington State for a suspected BUI will face gross misdemeanor charges. The State imposes a minimum penalty for gross misdemeanor charges of zero to 364 days in jail, as well as a penalty up to $5,000.

During the stop, unlike a normal DUI, the boat driver is not under any obligation to submit to a breathalyzer test. In addition, unlike a normal DUI, there is no mandatory driver’s license suspension that accompanies a BUI.

If the individual facing a potential BUI charge has no prior criminal history, it is likely that the charges can be reduced to a negligent boating charge. This is a much less severe offense as opposed to a gross misdemeanor.

BUI as a Prior Offense

Under the Washington State DUI sentencing laws, anyone who has a BUI conviction or reckless boating conviction on their record and is later convicted of a BUI will have that previous offense treated as a prior DUI.

The prior offense can also be used to enhance a later DUI offense. The penalties for that later DUI will be increased significantly with this prior offense on the individual’s record.

State and Federal Offenses

One key factor to keep in mind with a BUI arrest is that the charge can be both state and federal. Boats that are on the open water are under the jurisdiction of both Washington State and federal law. What this means is that arrests can be made by local police, state police, as well as federal Coast Guard.

The law covers all “vessels,” which is a fairly broad term and includes every description of watercraft, including seaplanes. However, it does not include flotation devices, inner tubes, sailboards and smaller rafts used by swimmers.

BUI Versus DUI

Unlike a DUI, the BUI conviction does not carry mandatory consequences with respect to the person’s operator’s license. Because of this, someone cannot lose his or her license after being arrested for and later convicted of a BUI.

If someone has a Captain’s License, a BUI conviction can end up being grounds for denial of a re-application for the Captain’s License down the road. 

A BUI will also not result in the individual having to install an ignition interlock device (IID) in their vehicle. Likewise, there is no ignition interlock license (IIL) requirement. The judge has some discretion to make whatever rulings he or she wishes, which means the judge can order an IID, but no statutory requirement exists.

If the driver of the boat is arrested for a BUI and refuses either the breath or blood test, no automatic consequence exists that would harm that person’s driver’s license on an administrative level.

However, despite the fact that the mandatory consequences that go along with a DUI offense are not there for a BUI, this does not mean that a BUI is not a serious crime. It is still a gross misdemeanor and is still a crime.

Therefore, if you are arrested for a BUI, it is important that a criminal defense attorney be contacted. It is important that the individual arrested know what his or her rights are, as well as what the consequences are for the particular crime. 

A defense attorney can not only explain these important points but can also work with the individual on a possible defense to fight the crime or at least reduce the charge to a lesser one.