The 2007 Seafair weekend has come and gone, and accelerating a trend which began in 2005, more boaters were arrested for operating their vessel under the influence of alcohol then ever before. According to both the Seattle Times and PI, over 130 boaters were arrested for BUI. Of course most of these cases assuredly involved cursory investigations which rely upon a battery of field tests which are given under the most ludicrous of circumstances. Yet more interesting, law enforcement, in their zeal to explain how they intended to “crack down this year, revealed their plans to create a “floating road block” not contemplated since State v. Messiani in 1998. By forbidding southbound traffic on the lake from coming within one mile of I-90 until the Blue Angels had completed their show on both Saturday and Sunday, law enforcement essentially created an aquatic inspection and roadblock zone along the east shore of Lake Washington. This sort of marine boat herding creates serious concerns as to the legality of any initial seizure conducted on the lake. Consider this quote from law enforcement in the Seattle Times on Friday, the day before Seafair weekend:
Seattle Police Harbor Patrol officers call it the “break-in” — the moment after aerial acrobatics conclude each day during Seafair weekend and the part of Lake Washington that has been closed during the flyovers reopens to boaters.
Everyone rushes to get the perfect spot for their weekend recreation.
“Of course they have been drinking earlier in the day and as they move into the break-in, we are already catching people who are drunk,” Officer Matthew Nichols said. “It gets really hectic really quick.”
Nichols said the break-in each day of Seafair is one of the key times when law enforcement officers look for boating violations, including speeding and drunken boating.
This type of activity was soundly rejected by the Supreme Court in 1998 involving the use of roadblocks by the Seattle Police Department on SuperBowl Sunday. The actions of law enforcement this weekend mirror the same activity soundly rejected by this State's highest court.
Law enforcement has admitted their clear predisposition that anyone enjoying a beverage that weekend, must surely be drunk. This accounts for as many of the 130 arrests as any claim of “increased enforcement.”
Seattle's Harbor Patrol is one of a handful of agencies that are part of a small flotilla of law enforcement officers taking a no-nonsense stance on boating while drunk during Seafair activities Friday, today and Sunday. About 50 officers from the various agencies will patrol Lake Washington with 13 vessels. Last year the Coast Guard said it contacted 408 vessels at Seafair and made 132 arrests for boating under the influence.
With an estimated 20,000 boats on the water for Seafair and possibly 350,000 people on or around the lake, Nichols said law enforcement officers expect to stay busy.
Sgt. Keith McDonough of the Mercer Island Marine Patrol said police will be looking for a few telltale behaviors during their patrols on Lake Washington, especially boats that are speeding and leaving a wake.
Speeding is sometimes an indicator of drunken boating or other illegal activities, Mercer Island police Cmdr. Leslie Burns said. “Not everyone is intoxicated but a large number of them are — they don't realize they are creating a wake,” Burns said. In “a majority of our arrests, our reason to stop them is wake violations.” The blood alcohol legal intoxication threshold on the lake is the same as on land at .08, but being on the water under a sunny sky can change the way people react to alcohol, McDonough said. “In this hot sunshine, people start drinking and lose their perception of how impaired they are,” he said. Boating while drunk is just as, if not more dangerous than drunken driving, Burns said. Boating under the influence is a misdemeanor in Washington.
“Boats don't have brakes and they don't steer as easily or as comfortably as a car does,” Burns noted
A new phrase has entered Seattle Seafair lexicon: “BUI,” or boating under the influence. A record number of BUI arrests at this year's festival sends the message that Seafair ought to be a more-sober affair.
Yes, even out on the water. In the old days, police tolerated a certain amount of carousing at Seattle's biggest summer festival. Many years ago, police beefed up enforcement of laws against drinking in public along the shoreline. Crowds became better behaved.
It was always a double standard. Spectators on shore reduced their drinking outside controlled beer gardens while police lacked resources to intervene with intoxicated boaters.
Two years ago, local police and the State Patrol began cracking down on water-borne spectators. This year, their efforts produced a record 130 BUI arrests.
If increased enforcement sounds too much like the nanny state, consider the danger. More than 80 minors were charged with possession or consumption of alcohol.
It does not take a huge imagination to realize an intoxicated teenager or adult could fall into the water and drown. Boats collide. Party-goers do foolish things, such as drive boats over swimmers.
Law enforcement is sending an important message of caution and safety. Stepped-up enforcement is a natural extension of the longtime cleanup of Seafair. The festival should be a safe, family-friendly event.
Seafair was stripped of its sozzled boaters after a record number of arrests were made on Lake Washington over the weekend. Because of a coordinated crackdown by police agencies at the festival, about 100 people were arrested for boating under the influence by Sunday night. In 2005, 49 arrests were made the same weekend, and in 2004 only 12 were arrested.
“We don't believe that it's more intoxicated boaters on the water, but the combined efforts of law enforcement,” State Patrol Lt. Jeffrey Sass said.
To prevent injuries and collisions, more than 50 officers from the Seattle Police Department, the State Patrol, the Coast Guard and U.S. Customs patrolled Lake Washington by boat and worked at a mobile precinct on Mercer Island.
Police departments said they had not heard of any serious injuries this year at the event on Lake Washington. In 2003, a woman was wounded by a boat propeller, and several people's toes were amputated. “Multi-agency efforts aren't a new thing, but this year we've really put an emphasis on BUIs,” Seattle Police Department spokeswoman Debra Brown said of the boating-under-the-influence arrests.
More than 60 BUI arrests were made Saturday by local police and State Patrol troopers. An additional 33 were arrested by Sunday evening. More than 30 minors were charged with possession of alcohol over the weekend, Sass said.
One man brought into the mobile unit on Mercer Island on Saturday became verbally abusive and chucked a rock at an officer, according to the State Patrol. The officer wasn't injured and the man was booked into the King County Jail on charges of felony assault and BUI, said Patrol Sgt. Rob Sharpe, who led the mobile unit. The 30-foot motor home is equipped with breathalyzer machines and two holding cells. Suspects were taken back to the mobile unit for a blood-alcohol test and their boats were released if a sober driver was available. If all passengers were intoxicated, the boat was impounded.
Any driver with a blood-alcohol level above 0.08 percent was cited. Police also cited drivers if they behaved erratically or endangered others. Brown said she didn't know how many boats were impounded this year.