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. These crimes are often known as driving under the influence, DUI, boating under the influence, BUI (boating under the influence), or by similar names. 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.
Boating under the influence can occur whenever you operate any watercraft, such as a speedboat or jet-ski, while under the influence of a an intoxicant. Intoxicants include both drugs and alcohol, even though alcohol is most commonly involved. For purposes of BUI charges, “drugs” includes 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.
You can be convicted of a BUI even if you never feel impaired, drunk, or intoxicated. For example, you can be convicted of a BUI if you have a blood-alcohol-level, or BAC, over a specified legal limit even if you never engage in any dangerous activity while operating the vehicle. You can also be convicted if you're found with any presence of an illegal drug in your system, or if you're found with a prescription or otherwise legal drug that impairs your ability to operate the boat. Further, if you have a BAC 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.
BUI can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor crime. Felony offenses are more serious than misdemeanors, and involve the possibility of larger fines and prison sentences. Not all states allow for felony BUI charges, but in those that do, they typically arise when a person operates a watercraft while intoxicated and the operation results in someone's injury or death.
A BUI conviction involves a range of possible penalties, including fines, jail or prison time; as well as 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.
A charge of boating under the influence is not something you should face without legal advice from an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area. A local attorney is the only person who can give you advice based on the knowledge of the relevant state laws and on experience with area courts, police, and prosecutors. BUI charges may seem like they are less serious than driving under the influence, but being convicted can lead to some very serious consequences. You should never make any decisions about your BUI case until you've spoken to an experienced area lawyer.