Washington law enforcement agencies will be increasing boat patrols over the long Fourth of July weekend as part of a nationwide campaign to draw attention to the dangers of boating under the influence.
Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies and Tacoma Police officers plan to step up patrols on area lakes and Puget Sound. For some of them, a boating fatality on Commencement Bay last year remains fresh in their minds.
Shortly after Tacoma’s Freedom Fair fireworks last Fourth of July, Joshua Puckett and some friends were cruising across the bay when their boat crashed into another near Point Defiance. Puckett’s friend fell out of his boat and presumably drowned. The couple in the other boat were both seriously injured, with the woman losing an arm.
Investigators said they found several liquor bottles near Puckett’s boat and that he had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. In May, the 45-year-old Tacoma man was sentenced to four years in prison for the crash.
Pierce County Sgt. Brian Ward said the accident serves as a “grim reminder to look for inebriated boaters.”
“It keeps us all aware that alcohol doesn’t have a place in a boating operator’s hand,” Ward said. “If you feel affected by alcohol, you should be slowing down and not operating a boat.”
Alcohol use was the leading contributing factor in 17 percent of boating fatalities in Washington state in 2014, according to U.S. Coast Guard.
The legal limit for boating under the influence (BUI) in Washington is a blood alcohol level of 0.08. For marijuana, it’s 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. BUIs are misdemeanors and carry fines of up to $5,000.
Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Coburn said boating accidents are especially dangerous because boaters don’t wear seat belts as they would in cars. He said some boaters are surprised to learn about the regulations that apply to them.
“When people go to get a boat, there’s no driver’s license, so people sometimes take that as there’s no rules to boating,” Coburn said.
Washington state does require most boaters to have a boater education card to operate vessels with 15 horsepower or greater. More information is available at boat.wa.gov.