By WILLIAM FRANCIS
Drinking boaters drown in a deluge of laws
Oregon has strict state laws on boating while under the influence of an intoxicant. In many respects, they are virtually identical to laws against driving a motor vehicle while under the influence. In some ways, boating laws are more severe.
Police will consider a boater to be “under the influence” when they suspect that the boater is impaired from the consumption of cannabis, a controlled substance (including a prescription medication), or alcohol.
Boating while under the influence of intoxicants is prohibited on all waterways in this state. These laws apply to boats with motors and boats without motors.
There are striking similarities between the laws prohibiting boating under the influence and driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant.
The Oregon Court of Appeals has considered constitutional challenges to charges brought against boaters. There have been cases where boaters have successfully raised legal issues on appeal, but at the present time the statutes enacted by the legislature remain in effect.
Stated simply, operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicants is a crime in Oregon. When the police allege that a person was operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicants, this person is exposed to significant legal penalties.
Oregon statutes also provide that if a person refuses or fails a sobriety test, evidence of the refusal or failure may be offered in court.
When someone is convicted of operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicants, the person is not eligible to apply for any certificate of title, registration, or numbering, and all certificates of title, registration and numbering necessary to lawfully operate a boat on Oregon waters will be canceled for at least one year. The marine board states that periods of cancellation or ineligibility are likely to be substantially longer if a person refuses to submit to a sobriety test.
Any person who operates a boat on any waters of this state is deemed to have given consent to submit to field sobriety tests on the request of a police officer if the police officer reasonably suspects that the person has committed the offense of operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicants.
If a person refuses or fails to submit to field sobriety tests evidence of the person’s refusal or failure to submit is admissible in any criminal or civil action or proceeding arising out of allegations that the person was operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicants.
When the police suspect a person is boating under the influence of an intoxicant, the investigation may move quickly toward a chemical test of the person’s breath by authority of Oregon’s “implied consent” law. This law states that, simply by operating a boat on any waters in the state, “shall be deemed to have given consent to submit to chemical tests of the person’s breath for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of the person’s blood if the person is arrested for operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicants.”
The law also provides, however, that no chemical test of a person’s breath shall be given to a person under arrest for operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicants if the person refuses the request of a peace officer to submit to the chemical test after the person has been informed of rights and consequences. On the other hand, if a person refuses or fails to submit to chemical tests of breath, blood or urine, any evidence of the person’s refusal or failure to submit is admissible in any criminal or civil action or proceeding arising out of acts alleged to have been committed while the person was operating a boat while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, cannabis or controlled substances.
At the trial of any civil or criminal action, suit or proceeding arising out of the acts committed by a person operating a boat while under the influence of any intoxicants, if the amount of alcohol in the person’s blood at the time alleged is less than 0.08 percent by weight of alcohol and shown by chemical analysis of the person’s breath or blood, it is indirect evidence that may be used with other evidence, if any, to determine whether or not the person was then under the influence of intoxicants.
If a test result is .08 or over, a person is presumed to be under the influence of intoxicating liquor.
A police officer may obtain a chemical test of the blood to determine the amount of alcohol in any person’s blood or a test of the person’s blood or a test of the person’s blood or urine, or both, to determine the presence of cannabis or a controlled substance. A test can be given when requested by a police officer and the person expressly consents to such a test.
A test can be given without the person’s consent if a police officer believes that the person was operating a boat while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor, cannabis or a controlled substance and that evidence of the offense will be found in the person’s blood or urine; and the person is unconscious or otherwise in a condition rendering the person incapable of expressly consenting to the test or tests requested.
Boaters also should be aware of crimes and punishments if there has been an accident. Anyone involved in a boat accident must give information and aid to any person who is injured injured person, including transportation to a hospital if treatment appears necessary or is requested by an injured person. Leaving the scene of a boating accident scene before performing a boat operator’s duties is a Class C felony, and carries a potential, maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $125,000. Boat operators involved in an accident resulting in death, injury or property damage exceeding $2000 must report the accident to the Oregon Marine Board within 48 hours of an accident resulting in death or injury, or within 10 days of an accident causing property or equipment damage. If the operator of a boat isn’t capable of submitting an accident report, the law states that an occupant of the boat has to do it.