Boaters in Connecticut are now subject to the same regulations as motor vehicle drivers when it comes to killing someone while under the influence.
As of July 1, a person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree with a vessel when the person under the influence of any substance causes the death of another person with that vessel, according to Eleanor Mariani, director of the Department of Environmental Protection boating division.
“This now makes the penalty the same as for the death of a person because of a person driving [a motor vehicle] under the influence,” says Mariani.
Previously, the accused would be charged with reckless operation of a vessel in the first degree, which would result in a fine of $2,500 to $5,000, not more than two years in prison, or both.
The new manslaughter charge has a fine that cannot exceed more than $10,000 and imprisonment for no less than a year or up to 10 years.
“We have the same number of tests to determine the level of sobriety for boats as the police do for land,” says Mariani. “We have to estimate the probable cause on land so that takes a little longer than a DUI, but we have a two-hour window where the information can be valid.”
Mariani says in the last five years 44 percent of boating fatalities in the state involved alcohol, but in only three incidents did the BUI cause the death of another person.
“Usually, it causes their own death rather than the life of others,” says Mariani. “But it is good to have stronger laws on the books in regards to this.”
A second bill that did not pass would have revoked a person’s driver’s license if he or she is charged with BUI; a DUI charge would result in revoking the person’s boating license, says Mariani. The bill could be proposed again in the future, she says.
“I think it’s an interesting concept, and it would really work to lower the number of cases with drinking and boating,” says Mariani. “We just have to see what happens.”
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This article originally appeared in the Connecticut & New York Home Waters Section of the October 2009 issue.