New law cracks down on boating under the influence

Memorial Day weather may have inspired more hooded sweatshirts than swimsuits, but even the Northwest has to welcome the sun at some point. For many in the area, boating on Lake Tapps is an integral part of summer festivities. Adding alcohol to the mix often results in less desirable outcomes. This year, Washington State laws are changing to more harshly discipline those who combine the two.

Memorial Day weather may have inspired more hooded sweatshirts than swimsuits, but even the Northwest has to welcome the sun at some point. For many in the area, boating on Lake Tapps is an integral part of summer festivities. Adding alcohol to the mix often results in less desirable outcomes. This year, Washington State laws are changing to more harshly discipline those who combine the two.

Boating under the influence (BUI) of alcohol and other mind-altering substances is currently classified as a misdemeanor but come July 28, the classification will upgrade to a gross misdemeanor.

Essentially, the change will result in higher jail time and/or fines for those who partake in mind-altering substances while operating boats and other water-bound vessels. Receiving a BUI will now be punishable by up to 364 days in jail and $5000 in fines.

With the passing of Initiative 502, marijuana laws are on the minds of many. Alcohol is the most common substance used by recreational boaters but impaired driving due to any drug use is illegal. Additionally, it’s illegal to use marijuana openly in public — which includes the shores of Lake Tapps — whether you’re operating a vehicle or not.

A person may be considered under the influence if they show an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher on a breath or blood test. Similarly, a THC concentration of 5.0 or higher is the limit for marijuana use.

The law also states that an officer may administer field sobriety tests if the need arises. Sobriety tests on the road are slightly different from those on the water, said Bonney Lake police officer Daron Wolschleger.

Wolschleger notes that most people are unaware the risk of dehydration and disorientation are higher when drinking on the water. Everyone wants to have fun, he said, but BUIs are an issue of public safety. BLPD hopes to educate people before resorting to disciplinary action whenever possible but they are always looking for irresponsible boaters.

The U.S. Coast Guard concurs that the effects of alcohol are more pronounced when on water.

“Alcohol is even more hazardous on the water than on land. The marine environment — motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray — accelerates a drinker’s impairment. These stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator’s coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster when using alcohol,” states the U.S. Coast Guard official website.

According to the website, alcohol is involved in approximately one third of boating fatalities.

“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 …” said Washington State Parks Director Don Hoch in a press release May 16.

June is finally here, so enjoy the lake but designate a driver and think before you drink.

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