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Published: July 21, 2008 01:01 am ShareThisPrintThis
Drunken boaters face same penalties as drunken drivers
By Bill Steeves
Newburyport Police

Newburyport, with its great marinas and beautiful harbor, is the perfect place to enjoy boating this summer. The Merrimack River will be jammed with traffic coming and going all season.
Safety, above all, is of course something with which every boater should be concerned. A great day on the water can be ruined in the blink of an eye.
One underreported aspect of boating, which is largely misunderstood by the boating community, is that of "boating under the influence" or BUI.
Drinking and boating are an especially dangerous combination when you consider that handling a boat has a higher degree of difficulty than operating a car. This is especially true when you consider the Merrimack's strong current and obvious congestion. Needless injury and property damage are often the result of a combination of drinking and boating.
The legal limit for blood alcohol concentration in Massachusetts is the same as that when operating a car or truck. You are considered "under the influence of intoxicating liquor" when your blood alcohol concentration is .08 percent or higher. This is the standard used around the United States for determining the lowest limit that a driver is considered "impaired."
It is important to note that even if you are lower than .08 percent (between .05 percent and .07 percent), you are still subject to criminal prosecution. If you are convicted of BUI, you stand to lose your driver's license, your boat's registration and more importantly, your freedom.
Preventing "impaired" operation of all motor vehicles is the real goal. Let's face it, our reaction times and judgment are just not as good after a couple of drinks. This can be critical when operating a vessel on the water. If you are operating a motor vessel or are the person in charge of that vessel, YOU are responsible.
Many boaters do not know that Massachusetts General Law Chapter 90, section B, allows the Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend the driver's license of an operator found guilty of boating under the influence. You may also be subject to jail time.
In other words, being found guilty of BUI has much the same impact as driving your car while under the influence. You may also have your boat's certificate of registration suspended, so that no one may use it. As with OUI, if you are asked to submit to a breath test, you MUST submit to the test or lose your right to drive for 120 days.
In Massachusetts, by boating on the state's public waterways, you have already given "implied consent" to submit to the test. In addition to the penalties mentioned above, a conviction for BUI means you'll also have to attend and complete a safe boating course and pay all of the associated costs if you are going to get your license back. Sounds like more trouble than it's worth.
A typical scenario may begin with the Coast Guard stopping a boat, arresting the operator on suspicion of BUI, and bringing that person to shore (the Coast Guard station). The local police or state police are then called to respond to the station.
The police officer observes the arrested person for 20 minutes and conducts a series of standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) to determine the ability of the arrested person to safely operate a motor vehicle/vessel. It is after this that the arrested person may be asked to submit to a breath test. Again, if you refuse the test, the law dictates that you WILL lose your license.
The bottom line is this: If you are going to enjoy your boat in the waterways of Massachusetts, please don't drink and boat. We want everyone to have a safe and enjoyable boating season. Let's be careful out there!
As always, if you have any questions or comments, contact me at [email protected], or at 978-462-4411.
Until next month, be safe and be good to each other.
Bill Steeves is a Newburyport police officer. His column appears monthly in The Daily News.
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