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.
Drugs or Alcohol
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.
- Jail or prison. A conviction for a misdemeanor BUI charge can 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 a 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. A court can impose fines individually or in addition to other penalties.
- Probation. Probation is a common possible 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 also faces 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.
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 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.