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Boating Under The Influence

Our Washington State DUI Attorneys can help defend you when accused of a BUI.

What you need to know

Boating Under the Influence


As authors of the Thomson Reuters publication, The Washington DUI Practice Manual Including Related Offenses, is widely respected by lawyers, judges, and prosecutors as an attorney who is knowledgeable and skilled in defending cases involving operating while under the influence.
When it seems as though the world is on your back, we will be at your side.

What Kind of reasons allows an officer to stop a boat?

  • In some jurisdictions, “reasonable suspicion” is necessary to stop you in a boat.
  • In some states, however, police do not need any cause to conduct searches of vessels.
  • The answer to this question is not yet clear under Washington law. It may very well be the case that, unlike your home, the police may stop your boat at any time and inspect the boat for flotation devices and the contents of the boat for illegal activity.

Can an officer give me a citation for refusing a breath test?

  • The law states that operators of boats and vessels give implied consent to a breath test.

  • If you refuse the breath test, and the officer has probable cause to believe that you violated the law, you can expect to receive a civil infraction for up to $1,000 for refusing.

  • A hand-held, portable breath test, which is not admissible in court, is still voluntary and a person cannot be punished for refusing this test.

    Here’s what else you need to know:

    • Blood samples may be obtained if officers obtain a search warrant, if you give voluntary consent to a blood test, or in the event of an emergency (an “exigent circumstance.”)
    • The fact that a person refused a breath test is not admissible in a BUI trial.
    • An officer can administer field sobriety tests, but only when circumstances permit.
Can I be charged with a felony for boating under the influence?
  • If someone dies as a result of a person’s operation of any vessel, the operator may be charged with homicide by watercraft.

  • This is a Class A felony offense. If someone suffers serious bodily injury caused by the operation of a vessel under the influence, the charge may be assault by watercraft.

  • Serious bodily injury means bodily injury which involves substantial risk of death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body. This is a class B felony offense.

Can a Person Be Charged with BUI More than Once for the Same Outing?
  • Since many rivers, lakes, and canals form state boundaries, a person might be charged in multiple different courts for the same act.

  • Because of this, you could potentially face trial and the imposition of a sentence in two or more jurisdictions for any one of your actions.

  • Double jeopardy doesn’t prohibit these multiple charges because each state and the federal government are separate sovereigns.

  • Thus, if you are believed to have operated a vessel while under the influence, you could be charged by prosecutors for the federal government and any state whose border you crossed.

What Are the Possible Consequences of a BUI?
  • BUI is a gross misdemeanor. The maximum possible sentence is 364 days in jail and a $5,000.00 fine.

  • The court may also order the person to pay restitution if anyone was injured or any property was damaged as a result of the BUI.

  • A BUI case can be difficult for a prosecutor to prove at trial. It may be hard to establish who was operating the vessel if there are multiple people on board.

  • Where a person performs field sobriety tests onboard a vessel, the results may be suspect due to the movement of the boat in water.

    Prosecutors may also have problems of a constitutional nature if officers boarded the vessel without sufficient justification, such as:

    For these and other reasons, the prosecution may be willing to negotiate a BUI charge down to a negligent operation of a vessel. Negligent operation of a vessel is merely an infraction, subject to a fine of up to $500, with no jail time.

  • However, negligent operation is a misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail, if it is a person’s third offense in 1 year.

What Experience Does Callahan Law Offer?

Why Should You Choose Callahan Law?

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Contact one of our Experienced DUI Attorneys today and get the advice you need now.  Learn how to save your license and stay out of jail.

Linda M. Callahan

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Disclaimer: The legal information presented on this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Any results set forth herein are based upon the facts of that particular case and do not represent a promise or guarantee.  This web site is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the state of Washington.

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