Washington’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Laws

Read about the consequences of boating under the influence (BUI) in Washington.

Washington law prohibits operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The term “vessel” 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,” except “inner tubes, air mattresses, sailboards, and small rafts or flotation devices or toys customarily used by swimmers.” (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 79A.60.010(29) (2016).) A person can be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) for operating a vessel while:

  • as the result of ingesting drugs or alcohol, “the person's ability to drive a motor vehicle is lessened in any appreciable degree"
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater, or
  • having a concentration of five nanograms or more of THC (the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 79A.60.040(2) (2016); State v. Arndt, 179 Wash.App. 373 (2014).)

BUI Penalties

The consequences of a Washington BUI depend on the circumstances of the case. But generally, the consequences are:

  • Standard BUI. Most BUIs are “gross misdemeanors” and carry up to 364 days in jail and/or a maximum $5,000 in fines.
  • BUI involving serious injury. A BUI offender who causes “serious bodily injury” to another person can be convicted of “assault by watercraft,” a class B felony. Class B felonies carry ten years in prison and/or $20,000 in fines.
  • BUI involving death. A BUI offender who causes the death of another person can be convicted of “homicide by watercraft,” a class A felony. Class A felonies carry life in prison and/or $50,000 in fines.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9A.20.021, 79A.60.040(6), 79A.60.050, 79A.60.060 (2016).)


Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to an Attorney

If you’ve been arrested for or charged with boating under the influence in Washington, get in contact with an experienced BUI attorney. The facts of every case are different. A good BUI attorney should be able to explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on your best course of action.

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