Stricter BUI law takes effect Sunday

Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard.

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.

22 Responses to Stricter BUI law takes effect Sunday

  1. Hammerschmidt Broughton Law Corporation December 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    Dont Drink with Boat…its knowledge full post sharing…..

  2. Jim Martinek August 1, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    I was at a July 4th celebration in Tacoma on my boat. When the fireworks were over boats scattered to find there way home, during this confusion two MAYDAY’s occurred both events were involving BUI’s. One boat sank, another involved a family…because the skipper could not abstain from drinking. These are very poor decisions made on behalf of the skipper and these people should be severely penalized. The thought of harming their family or others does not bother them.

    Why are the rest of us penalized (economically and physically) for those who cannot handle their booze??? Three cheers for making the waters safer for the rest of us responsible boaters…

    Captain Jim

  3. Rob August 1, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    I was on a friends boat recently on Lake Washington. The owner / operator of the boat was NOT drinking at all, we were stopped 3 times by 3 different cops in less than one hour. Had to show the whole compliance thing (Safety check) over and over. Took the fun right out of the day. After the last inspection, we went right back to the boat launch, loaded the thing up and went home. Too much of a hassle. Boating has become a pain around here because of the constant harassment by the police.
    I AM all for safety and enforcement but that was ridiculous.

  4. pete July 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    When I ~ and everyone else ~ received a drivers license from the State of Washington there was an agreement that we would submit to a breathalyzer test. That does not apply with a boat. The 5th amendment still applies, and I’d expect this law stricken down … after Seafair

  5. Obiwaynekenobi July 28, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

    This ruling is only applicable if you get stopped by the State or County authorities. If you are stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard it is a whole different story. The Feds are much tougher and do not require PC to breathalyze you during a boarding. If you smell like alcohol and operating then you are going to be Field Sobriety tested and IF you are over…then the Federal Law is way worse, especially if you are involved in a serious Marine Incident (Grounding, Collision, Injury, or Death.).
    Bottom line DON’T drink and drive a boat.
    Get someone else who is not drinking to drive.

    • pete July 29, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

      don’t drink and boat, that is good advice, but 5th amendment applies to Coast Guard. A breathalyzer is “testimony” … you don’t have to give that without prior consent.

  6. Mick Dawson July 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm #

    Of course the law enforcement better have PC to make a stop other than just a boat inspection for a BUI breath test or the law will be challenged in court just the same as DUI PC stops are made.
    If boat inspection is all that is necessary to test with a breath-a-lyzer just because a person may smell like he/she has been drinking but not drunk(a few beers type thing)and refuses a test,then for 2,000
    dollars in fines, I would say the state is definitely in it for the money!

    • Marine-Patrol July 28, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

      As a Marine Enforcement Officer, sorry to inform you under State of WA law a boater on the water has given consent to being stopped period; in other words no PC is required to stop you. DUI is different from BUI, when in a vehicle PC is required for the initial stop, that is NOT the case when boating. So, the informed know that the minute you put your boat on the water you have given your consent to any law enforcement officer to stop you without cause, inspect you, and to conduct any investigative measure deemed necessary by the boaters actions both before and after the stop. The simple answer is, don’t drink or get high and then operate a boat; then you won’t have to be concerned about PC or a BUI.

      • David July 29, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

        The problem is you get power hungry cops that use that very implied consent to regularly harass boaters. I have never failed an inspection and cary all the required safety equipment, but it gets tiresome having the same cops inspect you multiple times in a year.

      • pete July 29, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

        stop away, but there is NO implied consent. Given the inaccuracies of breathalyzers fixed and regularly calibrated in police stations I would never trust the little handheld units carried in patrol boats. No matter how sober, I would never blow into one of those on the water. This is a criminal penalty, and rights apply.

  7. harold July 28, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Of course this is about money. Law enforcement doesn’t work for free any more than the rest of us do. I would like to see a system that collects fees for violations restricted to only those violations, but perhaps that is a logistics nightmare….

    I believe education is critical whenever people operate machinery in public, especially if it could seriously hurt someone. I do realize that even the most educated people still use poor judgment from time to time.

    Penalties for operating boats inappropriately is somewhat effective at persuading some of us to think twice before doing so, therefore I support it.

    Those breath analyzers are creepy and humiliating. I would respectfully refuse to take one and I think they should be banned. They’re an attempt to collect incriminating evidence from me at the scene and I thought I had a right to remain silent, because ANYTHING I SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST ME. If I take that test anything I say or BREATH can and will be used against me.


  8. Ed C. July 28, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    I agree with most comments here on one level or another but what it boils down to is that the officer will make the determination to test an operator based on observations. I’m guessing most people who read this publication are responsible boat operators with their BE card and 1 or 2 beers are not going to turn you into a blabbering idiot. Act responsibly, give the officers complete respect for doing their job and comply with their requests. This new limit will catch and punish the jerks who don’t care about the rules and endanger the rest of us. I’m all for it.

  9. Justin R. July 26, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    So what’s the limit? Will I be breaking the law if I have one beer?

    • Bill Ray July 27, 2013 at 10:47 am #

      “.08 blood alcohol content (BAC) or impaired by alcohol or drugs is a crime”. No change and same as auto DUI. Given the physiology on the water 0.08 would be seriously impaired. Your one beer is very unlikely to tilt the limit, especially with a meal, but perhaps could be probable cause for a breath-a-lyzer test?

      BTW the rules in Canada are tougher – see

  10. Charles July 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    I think that the intent of the State is adequately revealed in the portion of the law that prohibits the use of refusal to take the breath-a-lyzer test as part of the testimony in any trial. The State seems content to take the fee!

  11. Bill Ray July 26, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    On the subject of boater education, I certainly agree that many people could use some. As a result I have taught Power Squadron classes in Seattle for a dozen years. Part of that is pointing out how many accidents involve alcohol and how alcohol is more debilitating when boating than driving (measured physiological fact). And an ignorant drunk is worse yet.

    Our culture still has a casual attitude about drinking for cars and boats, which would be fine with my libertarian leanings if the drunks only harmed themselves. However they harm innocents and the statistics show it is common.

    Suspicion about a government’s motives being tied to cash flow is well taken of course; it’s the place I look first to understand what they do. Ironically one of the arguments against tightening auto DUI laws recently was it was going to cost the state money. But the tragedies that result justify our taxpayer’s expense. If some of that can be extracted from the guilty better yet.

    Three cheers for tighter DUI penalties for boats and cars.

    • Patrick July 27, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

      do tell; what are the tragedies that are caused by folks who breathe a .08…since you are libertarian-leaning, I have no doubt that your ideas are predicated upon nothing more than facts…three cheers for folks who are not swayed by an emotional narrative…

  12. Ruth Berge July 25, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    Thanks to the goddess…I thought this was about stricter Bicycling Under the Influence laws. BUI BUI…it could mean so many things!

  13. keith July 25, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Isn’t it great that they are making the water safer, by making more money by making stricter penalties. Just another way the state tries to rape our pocketbooks. I thought the Boaters’ education courses, that are now mandated, were supposed to make the waters safer. Who do they think they are kidding? IT IS ALL ABOUT MONEY. Nothing else.

  14. Mike Brough July 25, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    The most common cause of those accidents is operator inattention or a related violation of boating rules of the road.


    I have passed less than a boat length from open power boats needing to alter course to avoid them by taking their stern – they never saw me – I was under sail – thought about hailing them, but decided the shock might cause them to alter course not to my advantage

    Another case – some kid without adult supervision, driving boat in the main fairway at Shilshole, shirt over his head so he could not see where he was going, his friend though it was so funny, laughing all the way, we hailed them just in time to keep them from hitting us head on, then the kid (college age actually) flipped us some attitude for daring to interrupt his jokes

    yes there have been some sailboats that could not be bothered to look under the jib – one took 20 seconds of continuous short blasts (we had signaled twice earlier 5 short and no response), before they thought to look under the Genoa,

    Keep a lookout at all times please

    • K2 July 26, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      I think education is much more relevant than BUI controls and I agree that this is all about money.

      As a Divemaster participating in many SCUBA training session around the puget sound area I always DREAD the opening of boating season because I have seen the unthinkable…including a guy who brought his sailboat right up to the dive flag and tried to drop anchor while we had students and instructors at the bottom of the flag line!

      Thankfully I was on the shore getting the next group ready, I told him he couldn’t be within 100ft of the flag and he yelled back he had the right to be there, I told him we’d call the harbormaster to verify and he left immediately…

      I routinely see boaters cruise right by dive flags, within 100ft and also approach the shore within the limits as well…

      People need to learn how to boat first.

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