BUI is a misdemeanor, but there is no license suspension.
If you are stopped in Washington State for Boating Under the Influence you will face misdemeanor charges. This means that you can be facing between 0-90 days in jail and $0-$1000 penalty. Unlike a DUI, there is no driver's license suspension for a BUI. Also, unlike a DUI, you have no obligation to take a breath test.
While the maximum punishment is 90 days in jail, we have never seen this happen. In fact, for people with no criminal history we have been very successful in the past reducing BUIs to negligent Boating , a civil infraction, not a criminal law violation.
BUI Laws Are Both State and Federal
If you are boating on open water in Washington State you come under the jurisdiction of both Washington State and federal law. This means that the local police, state police, and the federal Coast Guard may enforce the Washington State BUI laws.
The law pertains to all "vessels" that operate on the water. Vessel is a very broad term and includes:
"Every description of watercraft on the water, other than a seaplane, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water. However, it does not include inner tubes, air mattresses, sailboards, and small rafts or flotation devices or toys customarily used by swimmers."
RCW 79A.060.010(29). If a vessel is lawfully stopped and the operator (driver) has a breath or blood content of .08 or greater or is under the influence of intoxicants, that person can be accused of a misdemeanor. RCW 79A.60.040. A misdemeanor is a criminal offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and up to a $1000 fine. RCW 79A.60.020.
It is important to note that under the way this law is written a person may be accused of a BUI even with a breath test under a .08 or who refuses the breath test. Believe it or not, this office has seen people accused of BUIs who actually blew below the legal limit. Below are the texts of the most relevant Washington State BUI Laws.
A person shall not operate a vessel in a negligent manner. For the purposes of this section, to "operate in a negligent manner" means operating a vessel in disregard of careful and prudent operation, or in disregard of careful and prudent rates of speed that are no greater than is reasonable and proper under the conditions existing at the point of operation, taking into account the amount and character of traffic, size of the lake or body of water, freedom from obstruction to view ahead, effects of vessel wake, and so as not to unduly or unreasonably endanger life, limb, property or other rights of any person entitled to the use of such waters. Except as provided in RCW 79A.60.020, a violation of this section is an infraction under chapter 7.84 RCW.
RCW 79A.60.040: Operation of vessel in a reckless manner - Operation of a vessel under the influence of intoxicating liquor - Penalty.
(1) It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vessel in a reckless manner.(2) It shall be a violation for a person to operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug. A person is considered to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if:
(a) The person has 0.08 grams or more of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath, as shown by analysis of the person's breath made under RCW 46.61.506; or
(b) The person has 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol in the person's blood, 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 or any drug; or
(d) The person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and any drug.
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. A person cited under this subsection may upon request be given a breath test for breath alcohol or may request to have a blood sample taken for blood alcohol analysis. An arresting officer shall administer field sobriety tests when circumstances permit.(3) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor, punishable as provided under RCW 9.92.030. In addition, the court may order the defendant to pay restitution for any damages or injuries resulting from the offense.