Washington State's BUI Laws
It is not illegal to drink while operating a boat.
It is not illegal to be drinking alcohol while operating a boat or "vessel" here in King County. It is only illegal if your blood alcohol content is above .08, or if you are under the influence of or affected by the alcohol you have consumed.
As a practical matter, Washington State's Boating Under the Influence of Intoxicants (BUI) laws have some similarities to our DUI laws, except that there are no mandatory penalties or license suspensions. Additionally, unlike DUI, which is gross misdemeanor, BUI is only a misdemeanor.
The actual statute, however, mirrors our drunk driving statute in that you can be convicted of BUI by either having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) above .08 or by the state proving that you were operating a vessel while "under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug".
Here is Washington State's primary BUI statute, which can be found at 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.
[1998 c 213 § 7; 1993 c 244 § 8. Prior: 1990 c 231 § 3; 1990 c 31 § 1; 1987 c 373 § 6; 1986 c 153 § 6; 1985 c 267 § 2. Formerly RCW 88.12.025, 88.12.100, and 88.02.095.]
Effective date -- 1998 c 213: See note following RCW 46.20.308.
Intent -- 1993 c 244: See note following RCW 79A.60.010.
Effective date -- Severability -- 1990 c 231: See notes following RCW 79A.60.170.
Legislative finding, purpose -- Severability -- 1987 c 373: See notes following RCW 46.61.502.
In some ways, Washington State's laws regarding Boating under the Influence of Intoxicants, or BUI, are somewhat confusing when compared to our DUI laws.
For example, unlike in automobiles, the consumption
of alcoholic beverages on vessels and boats in Seattle and King
County's waterways is actually legal is not in and of itself a criminal
offense. Moreover, it certainly does not automatically constitute
commission of the crime of BUI.
It is important to remember, however, that legal limit for both driving and boating is the same. It is .08 for adults over 21 years of age.