The temperature in Lake Havasu City has heated up, the summer crowd is here and the Lake looks refreshing. The average temperature for June, July and August is 112 degrees Fahrenheit, which means the Lake (created by the Parker Dam-deepest dam in the world) is a popular destination for people to launch their standup paddleboard, kayak, or watercraft and enjoy our lake. There are several governmental agencies policing our lake to ensure safety.

It’s no secret Havasu thrives on people visiting our lake, creating economic stability for our town. We want our visitors to have a good time, get home safe and come back soon. This article will provide insight on legal issues surrounding our lake to keep money in your pocket, including a discussion of the Quagga Mussel, Negligent/Careless Operation, and Operating Under the Influence (OUI).

What are the top violations in Arizona?

According to Arizona Game and Fish (number of violations for 2012 beginning with #1): Lifejacket (414), Excessive Wake (363), OUI-A1 (307), Fire Extinguishers (279), OUI-A2 (269), Careless-Bowriding (226), Registration (211), Navigation Rules (171), Careless-Personal Water Craft (77), Careless-Skier (53), Lights (37), Overloading (30), Careless-Reckless (22), OUI-Super Extreme (22), OUI-Aggravated (13).

What items do I need if my boat is longer than 16 ft.?

There are several items you must possess in your boat: Coast Guard rated personal flotation devices for everyone on the boat, which must be in good and serviceable condition, readily accessible and must fit the intended wearer; a fire extinguisher; and a personal flotation device that can be thrown.

Can I be fined if my boat has a Quagga Mussel?

Yes. Lake Havasu has recently been invaded by the Quagga Mussel. It is listed as an invasive species in several states including Arizona. These algae feeders inhabit our Lake by attaching themselves to boats launched into our Lake. The Mussels reproduce extremely quickly and this results in a disrupted equilibrium of our ecosystem because they consume large portions of microorganisms and form large colonies. Every state is taking serious measures to limit the spread of the Mussel. The solution is washing your boat with high heat and high-water pressure (with soap or salt water) before leaving town because the Mussel can live without water for 3-5 days.

What is Negligent/Careless Operation under A.R.S. 5-341?

I help people with these criminal charges throughout the boating season. The most common charge is “Transom Riding” or “Bow Riding” under the Arizona Revised Statute cited above; and, it is when a person is sitting or “riding” on the bow, gunwale or transom of a boat while it is moving. If you are not sure what this is referring to, you should probably research (google images) transom/bow riding to make sure you don’t receive a criminal citation for this activity. Most people that receive this citation, do not realize that this is a class 2 misdemeanor offense, which requires your personal appearance in criminal court and is punishable by potential jail time. The Arizona Revised Statutes 5-341 states, (B) A person shall not operate a watercraft while allowing a person to ride on the gunwales, the transom or the decked over bow of a watercraft propelled by machinery operating in excess of wakeless speed except if: 1. That portion of the watercraft was designed and constructed for the purpose of carrying passengers at all speeds. 2. The watercraft is being maneuvered for anchoring, mooring or casting off moorings…. (C) No watercraft shall be operated with a passenger or passengers on the bow in such a manner as to obstruct the view of the operator…(G) A person violating subsection A, B, C or D is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor.

What are the drinking and driving (operating) laws on the Lake?

It is a criminal misdemeanor offense to operate a boat/personal watercraft while impaired to the slightest degree, having a blood alcohol level of more than .08% or being under the influence of other drugs. The crime is Operating Under the Influence (OUI) A.R.S. §5-395. There is a presumption of intoxication if your alcohol concentration is .08% or more within two hours of operating, or being in actual physical control of the watercraft. You can be charged with separate OUI violations if your blood alcohol level is above .15% (Extreme) and .20 (Super Extreme). DUI and OUI jail time and fines are very similar. An OUI (Extreme) will typically consist of 30 days in jail (approximately $2,500 in jail fees), $3,500 in fines, probation and alcohol counseling.

Operating a boat or personal watercraft under the influence is responsible for 50% of all fatal accidents on the water. Arizona has increased the effort to reduce operating under the influence by increasing penalties and increasing the OUI checkpoints. If you are stopped, the Officer must have “probable cause” you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs before you are asked to perform Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs). If you are stopped and asked to perform FSTs, you have the legal option to state to the officer, “I respectfully decline” and you have the right to remain silent. The FSTs are additional evidence against you if you are arrested; however, there is no legal penalty for declining to take FSTs for an OUI. The OUI laws in Arizona have become very strict over the past few years. The Arizona Revised Statutes have been amended to allow an officer to charge you with an OUI for being “impaired to the slightest degree.”

Please don’t drink and drive!

-Richard Rahnema is a lawyer at Rahnema Law PLLC.