About a year ago Melissa Protz died violently and tragically in Lake Washington when the boat she was on was hit by a vessel skippered by Richard Hicks. On Tuesday, Hicks was convicted of homicide by watercraft. The Seattle Times report can be found here. As details emerge, the death becomes even more tragic. Both skippers were drunk. The sailboat had no running lights on. According the Seattle Times report, somebody (perhaps an attorney) cites a “fast lane” on Lake Washington. That would require some explanation.
What requires no explanation is that this incident points squarely all boaters’ responsibility to stay sober and safe on the water. This is particularly true this year, when the warm waters and great weather seem to have everyone on the water.
Northwest Yachting’s Zellah Russeff, who has been a substance abuse counselor, has looked into the safety questions around BUI issues. Here’s here report.
Keeping Safe on the Water this Long, Hot Summer
By Zellah Russeff
Most of you already know about safety first while operating a vessel and how to stay on the right side of the law; however, we don’t want any of our readers ending up in the hospital or having to call their sister for a ride home from the precinct.
With this year’s exceptionally warm weather, more people are out on the water soaking up the sun and with a host of various summer events happening, the partying heats up. We want you to have a safe holiday weekend and a safe summer so be mindful of the consequences of boating under the influence and to observe some basic etiquette on the water.
Boating under the influence in Washington
In addition to the warm weather, events like Seafair draw additional traffic on the water which increases the number of boating under the influence (BUI) cases. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are working together to maintain order by looking out for offenses such as impaired operators, inadequate or lack of safety equipment, and improper or lack of vessel registration, and minors in possession.
For boaters in Washington State, while recreational use of marijuana is legal, you cannot operate a boat when you are high. Here is what the WA State Legislation has to say:
|RCW 79A.60.040Operation of vessel in a reckless manner — Operation of a vessel under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug — Consent to breath or blood test — Penalty.|
(1) It is unlawful for any person to operate a vessel in a reckless manner.
(2) It is unlawful for a person to operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug. A person is considered to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if, within two hours of operating a vessel:
(a) The person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or
(b) The person has a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or
(c) The person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug; or
(d) The person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, and any drug.
(3) The fact that any person charged with a violation of this section is or has been entitled to use such drug under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this section.
(4)(a) Any person who operates a vessel within this state is deemed to have given consent, subject to the provisions of RCW 46.61.506, to a test or tests of the person’s breath for the purpose of determining the alcohol concentration in the person’s breath if arrested for any offense where, at the time of the arrest, the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person was operating a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a combination of intoxicating liquor and any other drug.
(b) When an arrest results from an accident in which there has been serious bodily injury to another person or death or the arresting officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person was operating a vessel while under the influence of THC or any other drug, a blood test may be administered with the consent of the arrested person and a valid waiver of the warrant requirement or without the consent of the person so arrested pursuant to a search warrant or when exigent circumstances exist.
(c) Neither consent nor this section precludes a police officer from obtaining a search warrant for a person’s breath or blood.
(d) An arresting officer may administer field sobriety tests when circumstances permit.
(5) The test or tests of breath must be administered pursuant to RCW 46.20.308. The officer shall warn the person that if the person refuses to take the test, the person will be issued a class 1 civil infraction under RCW 7.80.120.
(6) A violation of subsection (1) of this section is a misdemeanor. A violation of subsection (2) of this section is a gross misdemeanor. In addition to the statutory penalties imposed, the court may order the defendant to pay restitution for any damages or injuries resulting from the offense.
To reiterate: if you take the helm of a vessel, you have given “implied consent” for a breath or blood test and you will be subjected a hefty fine of $1,000 for refusal to do. Keep in mind that even though the legal limit is .08, you can still be cited for boating under the influence: it is best to observe zero-tolerance. Also, if convicted of a BUI, which is now gross misdemeanor, you can face penalties of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Boating under the influence laws also apply to motorized and non-motorized watercraft alike. Remember everyone with a paddle on the water is an operator.
Boating under the influence in Oregon
According to the Oregon State Marine Board, operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol is a crime in Oregon.
A boat operator with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more is considered to be under the influence. Randy Henry, manager of the Boating Safety Program of the Oregon State Marine Board, stated that they are working closely with Operation Dry Water to maintain safety on the waterways. Operation Dry Water was created by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) to reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities. The purpose is to increased recreational boater awareness and to foster a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol use on the water.
In Oregon, a drug or alcohol impaired boat operator who is arrested for Boating Under the Influence of Intoxicants faces the following:
- fines of up to $6,250 and up to a year in jail
- completion of a boating safety class
- loss of his or her boat operation privileges for a period of time
- suspension of boat registrations for up to three years
Like Washington, Oregon’s BUI laws apply to motorized and non-motorized watercraft alike. Remember everyone with a paddle is an operator.
Boating under the influence in British Columbia
Boating while impaired is an offense under the Criminal Code of Canada and vessel operators with more than a blood alcohol content of .080 are liable to the following fines:
- 1st offense : at least $600 fine
- 2nd offense : at least 14 days of imprisonment
- 3rd offense : at least 90 days of imprisonment
Consumption of alcohol may be consumed on board the pleasure craft only if it meets all of the following conditions:
- The vessel has permanent sleeping facilities
- The vessel has permanent cooking facilities
- The vessel has a permanent toilet
- The vessel is anchored or secured alongside a dock
The U.S. Coast Guard recently released the 2014 statistics for boat accidents (www.uscgboating.org). The national figure for accidents, deaths and injuries for which alcohol was a contributing factor was 784. In 2013, those figures were 650 of which 94 were reported deaths. Last year’s alcohol-related deaths on the water were 132.
Listed in one of their online articles titled, “Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents,” Operation Dry Water shares some factors that can add to the effects of alcohol:
- Alcohol use can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time.
- Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion —“stressors” common to the boating environment— intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications.
- Alcohol use can increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion.
- Alcohol is dangerous for passengers too. Intoxication can cause slips, falls over board and other dangerous accidents.
- If you boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol you are endangering your life and the lives of others.
Etiquette and Common Sense
Etiquette on the water is just another way of saying: be safe and considerate on the water. Being mindful and using common sense help reduce the stress on the water. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, www.uscgboating.org, “Navigation Rules are much like the rules of the road on the highway. They establish a consistent way to navigate safely and avoid collisions when two boats are crossing paths, are on course to meet head-on, or when one boat wishes to overtake another.”
Discover Boating website, www.discoverboating.com, summarizes some thoughts in general about making nice on the water:
- You are responsible for your own wake and any damage done by it. You’re cruising across a channel and you avoid striking a cruiser by swinging into a shallow anchorage while traveling at a pretty good speed. That’s great, but looks at how much wake you’ve churned up for the other boaters on the hook. If you’ve caused boats to bang into each other or knocked someone’s grill off their deck or otherwise harmed their property, you’re the one on the hook for the damages. Big wakes in crowded spaces is bad news.
- Slow down if another boat is trying to overtake you. This is boating, not The Fast & The Furious. Tight channels, marina entrances, etc. should be single file. But if there’s room to pass and another vessel is coming alongside you, ease off the throttle and avoid a drag race. The faster your speed, the faster they’ll have to go to get around you. For safety and the serenity of everyone around you, just slow down and let them go around.
- The first one in blazes the path. If you’re entering an anchorage, mimic the other boats in how you tie off, how you anchor, how much line to use and how much distance you allow between the other boats.
- Respect your neighbors. If you have a loud boat (kids, music, barking dogs, smoky grills), make sure you leave plenty of space. Sound carries much farther on the water, and you can be heard clearly from a good distance away. Downwind is your friend. You never know who’s got an early getaway and is turning in early. Just like on terra firma, respecting your neighbors is the first step toward everyone “getting along.”
- Know your ramp manners. If you’re launching or retrieving your boat at a ramp, do it efficiently. Load your boat in the parking lot. Pull your boat over to a temporary dock to bring passengers aboard. Don’t drain, don’t clean, and don’t waste time. Everyone wants to be either on the water or off the water just like you. Think in advance about how you can cut down your ramp time. Delegate responsibilities and practice them before you get to the ramp.
- Move along already. As long as we’re on this subject, the same rules go for fuel docks. Get your fuel, pay your bill and move out of the way. If you need to buy groceries or a lake chart or bait, relocate your boat to the temporary docks. Again, fueling is a necessary part of your boating experience, but be considerate of other boaters who would also rather be out on the water.
- Lend a hand. This is one of the unwritten laws that can say more about you as a boater than almost anything else. You should be willing to assist other vessels as they arrive and depart. While this courtesy shouldn’t necessarily extend to the entire marina, you should be alert to help out you folks in the adjoining slips. They toss you a line and you hold it or help guide them in. Then you hand them back the line and they tie off. It just takes a minute, and you’ve shown everyone what a standup boater you are.
- Keep your area tidy. Marinas have enough hazards as it is without having to step over draining coolers, half-deflated tubes and sloppy dock lines. Buckets, shoes, carts and other items need to be stowed properly. And if you’ve used a piece of equipment intended for common use, put it back where you found it.
Keep these few issues in mind, and don’t forget to use those Personal Floatation Devices such life vests, observe a safety speed and Have a Safe Summer. Let us know what some of your pet peeves are. Your contributions are welcomed at www.nwyachting.com – safety is an on-going saga on the sea.