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Seafair 2016: What You Need to Know to Avoid a BUI

Posted by William Kirk, Partner | Jul 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

That time of the year is upon us in Seattle.  Our annual right of passage, Seafair.  And with the festivities comes a considerable law enforcement presence on Lake Washington.  Rest assured, police will be in full force all weekend looking for impaired boaters.  Here is some important information to guide you through Seafair weekend, but remember, the best way to avoid a BUI is to not drink and operate a vessel.  

What Can Get Me Pulled Over?

While there are lots of reasons that law enforcement can seize your vessel, experience has shown us that these are the most common reasons:

1.  Violating a No Wake Zone:  While no one wants to post it, understand that all Seafair weekend, anything south of the I-90 bridge, and to the south end of Ohlers Island is a NO WAKE ZONE.  And while this really means 8 knotts or less, police have been known to stop vessels for merely creating a wake.  Keep your boat at dead troll speed whenever south of the I-90 bridge and anywhere north of Ohlers Island.

2.  Bow Riding:  Even though your boat may have an open bow, you will be pulled over if there are passengers in the bow while the vessel is underway.  All passengers should be seated behind the captain while the vessel is underway.

3.  Towing Anything.  Once you have entered to NO WAKE ZONE, you cannot tow anyone, or anything.  Even at dead troll speeds, if you are pulling anyone on an inner tube or raft, you will be pulled over.  

Do I Have to Take Field Tests?

If you are contacted by police and asked to board their vessel, they are likely about to commence a BUI investigation.  Remember, you DO NOT have to take field sobriety tests.  Politely decline and tell law enforcement that you are not willing to submit to any sort of field testing.

Do I Have to Blow Into Their Portable Breath Test?

It is very important that you understand that there is a difference between the portable breath test, usually administered on the water, and the evidential breath test, usually administered on land.  This advice relates only to the Portable Breath Test (PBT) that is offered while on the water.  This test is voluntary, and often inaccurate as it is very susceptible to interferrants.  Politely decline to take this test.

What Do I Do If I Am Arrested?

You will be handcuffed and advised of your Miranda Rights.  Please remain silent and polite with law enforcement at all times.  Once you arrive on land, you should request to contact counsel.  You should be entitled to a private conversation with the attorney.  If you do not know an attorney to call, you should accept the on call public defender.  Public defenders by far handle more of these sorts of calls than any other lawyer and are very well-equipped to handle these calls.  

Should I Take the Breath Test at the Station?

There is no real clear answer, but most lawyers would tell you NO.  Unlike in the DUI (driving) setting, where you can lose your license for at least one year if you refuse a breath test AND the refusal can be used against you in court, the same is not so in the boating context.  Your driver's license will not be suspended if you decline to take a test.  The refusal cannot be used as evidence against you in court.  HOWEVER, you need to be aware of the following:

1.  Refusing a breath test following a BUI arrest, can subject you to a civil infraction (ticket) with a fine of $1,000, and;

2.  If you refuse to take a breath test, law enforcement can seek a search warrant and extract a blood sample from you without your consent.  The attorney that you consult with should attempt to learn from the officer if they would seek a warrant in the event of a breath test refusal.

What Do I Do After the Police Are Done With Me?

You will need a lawyer.  BUIs are gross misdemeanors and therefore punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.  And while there are no mandatory minimums, unlike DUIs, criminal charges can cost thousands of dollars in fines and can have long lingering effects.  You may be ordered by the court to obtain an alcohol/drug evaluation and possibly enroll in treatment depending on your circumstances.  

Hopefully, you will not need any of this advice.  But we understand that bad things can happen to good people, and we are here to help.  Remember, the best way to avoid a BUI is to not pilot a vessel after consuming any alcohol.  

For more information on BUIs, visit us here.

About the Author

William Kirk, Partner

Bill Kirk has been named a Super Lawyer by Washington Law and Politics Magazine every year since 2003. He currently serves on the Board of Regents to the National College for DUI Defense and is the President of the Washington Foundation for Criminal Justice. Bill is one of only two attorneys in this state to pass the National College's Board Certification Exam.


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