As a criminal defense attorney in Bellevue who has been practicing in the area for almost 27 years — and having lived on Lake Sammamish for 18 years as an avid wake surfer — I am regularly asked by friends and neighbors about boating statutes, rules and regulations. With a sunny and hot summer approaching, I can anticipate how busy, and potentially dangerous, the lake will be for us all. Although nothing beats common sense and experience when on the water, these are the top things everyone should know before heading out onto the lake:
1. Alcohol/Boating Under the Influence (“BUI”)
Just like driving a car, it is illegal to operate a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The legal alcohol limit is .08 or 5.0 ng of THC. It is still possible, however, to be convicted of BUI if you are under these thresholds if the state can prove you were affected to any appreciable degree by the alcohol, marijuana or other drugs (legal or illegal) you consumed: the opinion of the officer can be sufficient. If convicted of BUI, you are facing up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine, in addition to up to two years of probation, alcohol treatment and all the other consequences of a criminal conviction, including difficulty obtaining employment, renting apartments and even entering Canada.
Open container: Unlike a car, it is not illegal for passengers to possess alcohol in a boat. However, the operator of the vessel is prohibited from having an open container of alcohol in their possession while the vessel is being operated, including an open container sitting in the operator’s cup holder.
2. Personal Watercraft (“PWC”)
Age: Many people do not realize that a person under the age of 14 is prohibited from operating any PWC at any time, even with adult supervision, and even if they have completed a boater safety course. PWCs cannot be rented to anyone under the age of 16.
Vests/misc.: Any operator or passenger on a PWC must wear an approved floatation device, have a whistle and know where the fire extinguisher is located.
Towing: A PWC may legally tow a skier/wakeboarder/inner tube, as long as a responsible rear facing observer has a skier down flag.
Darkness: No PWC can be legally operated after dark, even if equipped with aftermarket navigation lights.
Bouys: Just like boats, PWCs cannot violate the no wake zone (100 yards from shore).
3. Boater Education Cards
All boat operators who were born Jan. 1, 1955 or after are required to have a Boater Education Card in their possession while operating a vessel with 15hp or more.
4. Negligent Boating/Reckless Boating
Any operation of a vessel with disregard of careful and prudent operation or rates of speed that are unreasonable or proper based on the conditions, may result in a negligent boating citation. Reckless boating is a misdemeanor that carries up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
5. General boating rules and regulations
Vests: Everyone on a PWC or being towed behind a boat, including wake surfers, are required to be wearing approved floatation devices. There must be enough approved vests in each vessel for every passenger.
Skiier down flag: Must be bright red or brilliant orange, and cannot be permanently affixed to the boat or tower.
Night skiing: It is illegal to ski/wakeboard/inner tube/surf one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset.
Len Nahajski is a criminal defense attorney with The Nahajski Firm in Bellevue. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.