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People who operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI) will face stiffer penalties starting Sunday, because of a new law recently adopted by the Washington State Legislature.
Boating is a favorite sport in Washington, and alcohol is a leading factor in boating fatalities. The new law is intended to make the sport safer. According to the Washington State Parks Boating Program, between 2005 and 2011, there were 157 boating deaths on Washington waters. Alcohol is a factor in 30 percent of boating deaths.
The new “boating under the influence” law, RCW 79A.60.040, designates a BUI conviction as a gross misdemeanor; sets legal limits for marijuana use while operating a boat; and provides greater incentive for boat operators to submit to a breathalyzer test in situations where an officer has probable cause for BUI. Previously, a BUI conviction was a misdemeanor.
Penalty changes effective July 28 include the following:
• A conviction for operating a boat while under the influence (BUI) will be punishable with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or 364 days in jail, as a gross misdemeanor.
• A boat operator who refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test when requested by an officer with probable cause for BUI could be fined a maximum of $2,050, as a Class 1 Civil Infraction.
• The legal limit for boating under the influence of marijuana is set at 5.0 nanograms, consistent with Initiative 502, which made recreational use of marijuana legal this year.
• The BUI law applies specifically to the operators of motorized and non-motorized boats and does not prohibit alcohol consumption by others on the vessel. The legal limit of blood alcohol for boat operators is .08 percent, the same as for motorists on the highways.