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What Should Boaters Know About DWI On The Water?

For those who live on or near water, summer can often mean just one thing: long, sunny days spent swimming, boating, and relaxing with family and friends. But when these good times include alcohol, they can sometimes become dangerous — particularly when the person piloting the boat is under the influence. Learn more about when boaters can be charged with BUI (or boating under the influence) while operating a watercraft. 

Why Is BUI Dangerous?

Operating a boat while under the influence of a drink or two can often seem far less harmful than getting behind the wheel of a car while under the influence. After all, on many lakes, a single watercraft may travel some distance before encountering another, and it's often easy enough to maintain sufficient distance to avoid a collision.

However, colliding with another watercraft isn't the only risk associated with BUI. Boaters who are operating while intoxicated may not see swimmers or even kayakers in the water below. They can also collide with a piece of driftwood or another floating object that causes the boat to take on water; without the mental acuity to ensure that all passengers are given life preservers and safely evacuated, an intoxicated captain's actions (or inaction) could lead to injury.

What Constitutes BUI?

In general, someone can be arrested and charged with BUI under the same circumstances they'd be charged with DUI or DWI while operating a motor vehicle. All states criminalize the act of operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of more than 0.08 percent, although in some states, the threshold for a BUI is slightly higher.

Minors who are consuming alcohol on a watercraft can also be charged with underage drinking. In most cases, the person viewed as responsible for supplying the alcohol or allowing underage individuals to consume it can also be held responsible. 

BUI isn't only limited to alcohol. Those who are under the influence of illicit substances or prescription medication that impacts their ability to operate a motor vehicle (like many prescription painkillers) can also be charged with BUI if they're seen driving erratically or are involved in a collision with another boat or swimmer.

How Are BUIs Prosecuted and Punished?

Each state's BUI laws are different; however, in most states, defendants charged with BUI may face jail time, fines, court fees, and the revocation of their boating license. First offenders are often given the option of probation or a deferral period in lieu of jail time; however, a subsequent BUI arrest can mean an even harsher punishment. 

For more information, contact a local DWI attorney.