Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Can Lead to Criminal Charges

Updated October 21, 2020

Operating any vehicle under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants is dangerous, which is why all states have not only drunk driving laws, but also drunk boating laws. All states have laws that criminalize operating a watercraft while intoxicated or under the influence of intoxicants, but these laws often differ significantly from state to state.

Types of Watercraft

Boating under the influence (BUI) generally prohibition the operation of any motor-powered watercraft (such as a speedboat or jet ski) while under the influence of an intoxicant. However, the BUI laws of some states also apply to watercraft that don't have motors, like rowboats.

Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol

A BUI can result from both drugs and alcohol use, though alcohol is most commonly involved. For purposes of BUI charges, "drugs" include both legal and illegal substances. For example, you can be charged with a BUI if you operate a speedboat while on cocaine, but also while you are under the influence of prescription or over-the-counter drugs that impair your ability to operate the vessel.

BAC and Intoxication

As with DUI charges, you can be convicted of a BUI based on your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or being actually impaired by drugs or alcohol.

For example, you can be convicted of a BUI in most states if you have a BAC of .08% or more, even if you never engage in any dangerous activity while operating the boat. And, even if you have a BAC that's lower than the legal limit, you can still be arrested for and convicted of a BUI if your ability to operate the vessel was impaired as the result of drugs or alcohol.

Penalties for Boating Under the Influence

A BUI conviction might carry fines, jail or prison time, and restrictions on the ability to operate a watercraft. The circumstances of each case, as well as the laws of the state in which it is charged, will determine whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony, as well as what penalties are possible. Here is some general information about specific BUI penalties:

  • Jail or prison. A conviction for a misdemeanor BUI charge can typically result in up to one year in jail, but lesser sentences are also common. For example, a state's BUI law may provide for a maximum of 90 days in jail for a misdemeanor BUI conviction. Felony convictions, on the other hand, involve the possibility of more than a year in state prison.
  • Fines. Fines for boating under the influence also differ among cases and states. Fines of up to $1,000 or so are common in misdemeanor cases, while felony offenses can involve fines of $25,000 or more.
  • Probation. Probation is a common penalty for BUI cases. When a court imposes a probation sentence, it allows the convicted person to serve the penalty outside of jail or prison. However, someone on probation does not have the same freedoms that an average person does and must comply with specific probation conditions for a period of 12 months or longer. These conditions commonly include reporting to a probation officer, taking random drug or alcohol tests, not committing more crimes, and performing community service. If someone on probation violates the conditions, the court can impose additional penalties such as lengthening the probation sentence, imposing more fines, or sending the person to jail or prison.
  • Suspended boating privileges. A person convicted of boating under the influence might also face the suspension of his or her boating privileges. Typically, a person convicted of BUI will face at least a 30-day boating license suspension, but periods of 90 days or longer are also possible.

In some states, DUI and BUI convictions are both considered prior convictions if you're later convicted of a subsequent offense. So, if you get a DUI and then get a BUI a year later, the BUI will be punished as a second offense in some states.

Hire an Attorney

A charge of boating under the influence is not something you should face without legal advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney. BUI charges can lead to some very serious consequences. An experienced attorney can help you decide on the best course of action for your particular situation.

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