August 4, 2013

Are you a drunken operator?

NOW THAT WASHINGTON STATE has introduced new laws about drunken boating, I’m wondering if you can be arrested and carted off to jail for excessive drinking on your boat while she’s safely at anchor somewhere.

New restrictions and penalties on the use of alcohol by Washington boaters came into effect on July 28, 2013. You’re considered to be “under the influence” if, within two hours of operating a vessel, you have an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, as shown by a breath or blood analysis.

The actual legal language says that it is “unlawful to operate a vessel while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug.”

Now there are two definitions needed here.  First of all, what is a “vessel”?  Secondly, what does “operate” mean?

A vessel, apparently, is “every description of watercraft on the water . . . capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water” with the illogical exception of seaplanes, inner tubes, air mattresses, sailboards, and small rafts or flotation devices or toys customarily used by swimmers.

Thus, in the eyes of the legislators, your dinghy is a “vessel” and if you have too many drinks in the club before rowing the dinghy back to your yacht, the cops can nab you for drunken boating.

The answer, it seems, is to paddle back to your boat on an inner tube or small raft.  You can get as drunk as you like then, and the fuzz can’t touch you. At least, not under these laws.

And then there’s the original question:  Are you “operating” a boat if she’s at anchor and you’re down below knocking back the medicinal brandy?  Unfortunately, I think there’s a very good case for saying that you are still the operator of the boat, the one who would have to take the decision about weighing anchor if the wind should come up and force you to move.

The captain of a ship is always the captain, even though he or she cannot be on duty 24 hours a day. The responsibility for everything that happens on the ship is ultimately the captain’s, even though it’s the subordinates who might be at fault.

I don’t want to spoil your evening sundowners in the cockpit while you’re at anchor in some nice cove in Washington state, but from now on if I were you I’d hide the beer if I saw the police or Coasties coming my way.   

Today’s Thought
There is far too much law for those who can afford it and far too little for those who cannot.
— Derek Bok, President, Harvard, Report to Board of Overseers, 21 Apr 83

“I want a divorce.”
“On what grounds?”
“My wife called me a lousy lover.”
“That’s not grounds for divorce.”
“Yes it is. How does she know the difference?”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


KevinH said...

This issue has been raised with much debate in Scandinavia, where indeed you are in command if you are on board and thus liable for prosecution if found "mellow".

S/V Blondie-Dog said...

This column reminds me yet again that I'm so happy to no longer be living aboard my boat. It jest' ain't worth the hassle.

Ken said...

Oh, I most certainly have been! And I most certainly may be again. Oh well, got to have a little, chance in life.