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Law gets tough on boating under the influence

OLYMPIA — Governor Jay Inslee signed the boating safety bill (Senate Bill 5437) on May 16, a three-part bill that changes Washington’s boating safety laws and gets tough on boaters operating under the influence. The law changes go into effect on July 28.

Most notably, the bill strengthens Washington’s boating under the influence (BUI) law by making the penalty for BUI a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and 364 days in jail. Additionally, the law now allows for implied consent, which means an officer can require a boat operator to take a breath or blood test if the officer believes the operator is boating under the influence. If the operator refuses, he/she could be issued a $1,000 civil infraction.

“Washington has a long history of being a maritime state. We need to keep boating safe and fun, and this legislation will help us do that. I’m delighted that by working with our state partners and boating stakeholders, we were able to develop legislation that everyone could agree to,” said Washington State Parks Director Don Hoch.

“The cultural, economic and recreational significance of Washington state waterways can’t be overemphasized. Likewise, neither can boating safety. The passage of this measure provides law enforcement with additional tools and strengthens our commitment to limiting tragedies on waterways,” said Bruce Bjork, chief of police for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, an agency that played a key role in writing and promoting the legislation.

Lastly, the law gives marine law enforcement officers the ability to hold negligent or reckless boaters accountable and the authority to issue citations for vessel accidents they did not witness. Now, when an officer is investigating a vessel accident, like a vessel-to-vessel collision, and it’s determined a boat operator caused the accident by breaking a boating safety law, the officer can arrest the operator for criminal violations or issue a citation for an infraction.

“This is a great change and something we’ve needed for a long time. We’ve had this authority on land, but we lacked it on the water. I think this is really going to help us educate boaters about the importance of the boating rules of the road,” said Ed Holmes, Mercer Island police chief and president of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

According to State Parks data, alcohol is a factor in 30 percent of boating fatalities. The law change was intended to deter BUI by increasing the penalty and introducing implied consent in the form of a monetary penalty - not tied to the driver’s license.

Other changes to the law include the following:

• Testing language consistent with driving under the influence (DUI) procedures: The statute was updated to reference the breath and blood testing procedures used in DUI cases. These procedures have been thoroughly tested in court.

• Marijuana references added: The statute was updated with marijuana references that mirror language in Initiative 502, which made the recreational use of marijuana legal.

• Test refusal is not admissible in court: The statute makes it clear that a boater’s refusal to submit to either a breath or blood test cannot be used as evidence in a court of law.

• Recreational vessel rentals: The statue makes it clear that rented vessels must have all safety equipment, be properly registered and meet all other state requirements.

“We thank the sponsors of the 2013 Boating Safety Bill for bringing the Recreational Boating Association of Washington into the bill discussions,” stated Steve Greaves, the association’s president. “We believe this collaborative approach will ultimately lead to safer boating.”

The Washington State Parks Boating Safety Program is a leader in boating safety and environmental education and outreach, with the purpose of reducing accidents and fatalities, increasing stewardship of Washington waterways, and keeping recreational boating a safe, accessible and enjoyable pastime.

For more information on boating regulations, visit www.boat.wa.gov.

 

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