It seems that here in our neck of the woods the summer heat is finally starting to arrive. Some will say “better late the never.” Some of you have enjoyed the cooler summer we've had thus far, more so than the past few scorchers. Even though the kids are getting ready to go back to school, many families will be out on our local waterways enjoying the hot weather in the waning days of summer on boats or personal watercraft (PWC).
I was recently fortunate enough to become a part-owner of a recreational power boat. She's used but in good shape, and perfect for a family afternoon at the lake, pulling tubers or water skiers, or just cruising around. Because my grandparents had a boat and a lake cabin to use it at, I became familiar at an early age with basic boat operation and safety. Becoming a boat owner more recently allowed me the opportunity to re-familiarize myself with the necessary operational and safety rules. Although they can be a ton of fun, boats and PWC's can also cause serious injuries when used unsafely, a fact borne out by the many boating injuries and fatalities that occur every year.
This blog post is not intended to cover all the safety rules that need to be followed for a safe time on the water. That the different, more in -depth topic for a different day, and frankly probably not one that we could cover as well as one of the boating safety courses that are available online or in person. Although the need to keep a lookout and drive carefully applies both on the road and on the water, boating presents unique safety challenges. Other craft on waterways might be coming at you from any direction at any time, so the need to scan ahead and around you is possibly even more acute than on controlled roadways. A primary rule of safe boating is to wear a personal floatation device (PFD, or life vest) at all times, and insist that your passengers do the same. Manufacturers make some very comfortable safety vest options now, and it's too late to be trying to find one to put on when you've been knocked off the boat unexpectedly. We've written about that previously, here: https://www.washingtonoregonlawyers.com/why-dont-people-wear-lifejackets-when-they-fish-and-boat.
Alcohol is involved in a high percentage of boating accidents, and I think there's a general feeling amongst a lot of the boating public that drinking and boating go hand in hand. From our perspective, there's probably little controversy in stating that it is best practice for boating to be done soberly. According to Washington State Parks, almost 20% of recreational boating fatalities involve alcohol as a leading factor. It is clearly not against the law for of-age passengers in a boat to have open containers and be consuming alcohol. Operating a boat under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal and carries similar penalties as a regular DUI. In researching this post, I found some articles from recent years indicating that it was illegal in Washington for a boat operator to even be in possession of alcohol or consuming it while operating. At least my initial research into the actual statutes failed to find support for this proposition. But boat operators who imbibe even a little should bear in mind that an officer can ask you to submit to sobriety tests (with penalties for refusing) if they can articulate probable cause. Probable cause is likely going to be easily found if the operator has been drinking and/or has an open container in their possession.
I recently took one of the online courses to obtain my Washington boater education card. This was new to me, because in the past my boating activities were primarily taking place on vacation in Idaho, which doesn't seem to have a lot of regulation of boating activity compared to some other states. As of a few years ago, Washington now requires all boat operators born after Jan. 1, 1955 to take an education course and obtain a certification after passing a test. I took one of the state's approved online courses, which took me about 3 hours to complete. It was an excellent refresher, covering basic and advanced safety concepts, operating and navigational rules, and a variety of other pointers to help ensure a safe time.
To learn about the rules and requirements for boat operation Washington, start at the State boater education website: https://boat.wa.gov/BoatersCard.asp. You can find out these, based on the type of craft you'll be operating, whether you need to take the class and get the certificate. Generally speaking, if the craft is 15 horsepower and above, and you're under 64 years old, you need to take the class. This website is also a good water safety resource: http://www.coldwatersafety.org/Rule5.html.