BUI (Boating Under the Influence)

All U.S. states have laws in place prohibiting the use of alcohol and drugs while operating a boat or any other watercraft. Each state and the U.S. Coast Guard oversee federal laws against drinking on a boat and arrests people for boating under the influence, or BUI. Conviction on a BUI charge is a serious offense. It can result in incarceration, large monetary fines, suspension of boating and driver’s licenses and increases in auto and boat insurance premiums.

Increases in BUI Arrests

Laws against BUI have been enacted across the country to help prevent accidents, deaths and property damage. The Coast Guard tracks statistics regarding boating accidents and reported 4,158 accidents and 626 deaths involving watercraft in 2016. Over half of these accidents involved BUI offenses. Because of laws against BUI, an increasing number of people are arrested and convicted for this crime.

Insurance company statistics also show more BUI crimes and damages are being reported. In 2016, a nationwide total of $3,802,607 in property damage was reported due to boating accidents. Coast Guard statistics reveal alcohol consumption as a leading cause in boating accidents and fatalities; alcohol consumption while boating was the leading factor in 15 percent of deaths. The largest yearly increase in BUI accidents occurs during summer months when more people are on the water.

BUI Checkpoints

Fifteen states now have laws with formal procedures for setting up BUI checkpoints on waterways. States that do not have formal marine law enforcement orders may also set up BUI checkpoints for questioning and inspecting boat operators and passengers for intoxication while boating. BUI checkpoints operate in much the same way as roadside DUI checkpoints, and this type of enforcement is leading to an increasing number of BUI arrests and convictions.

Basics of BUI Charges

The crime of boating under the influence is defined in most states as operating any form of watercraft on a body of water while having a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or above. A few states define a BUI charge as having a blood alcohol content of .1 percent or above. In some states, it is an additional crime if a minor is present on board the boat, especially if the minor has a blood alcohol level above .01 percent.

People can be convicted of a BUI offense when they are operating any watercraft and are intoxicated to any significant degree by alcohol, drugs or both. In most cases, this involves someone having a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or higher for recreational vessels and .04 percent or higher for commercial vessels. The crime of BUI applies to all forms of watercraft, including sailboats, speedboats, yachts, fishing boats, Jet Skis and commercial vessels.

Consequences of a BUI Conviction

While the penalties for a BUI conviction vary, in all states, the legal consequences carry significant weight. First-time offenders can face up to six months of jail time, $1,000 in fines and probation that includes having to seek substance abuse treatment or attend classes.

Repeat offenders with one prior BUI or DUI within seven years can receive a sentence of up to one year in jail, a fine of $1,000 and up to 30 months of mandatory substance abuse treatment or educational classes. In addition, a BUI conviction can result in a lasting criminal record. If the conviction involves felony charges, a person’s right to vote can be revoked.

A BUI conviction can also result in the suspension or revocation of boating and driver’s licenses. For people with a commercial boating license, loss of this license can make it hard, if not impossible, to earn a living. Auto and boat insurance rates can also go up significantly for people who receive a BUI conviction.

When a minor is on board during a BUI arrest, penalties can be even more severe. In some states, like California, boat operators who are convicted of BUI must also complete a state-certified boater safety course within six months of the conviction or they risk further fines.

Boating Safety Tips and Advice

Not drinking on a boat is the best protection against a BUI arrest and conviction. Following these boating safety tips also helps ensure safe and legal boating excursions:

  • Operators and passengers on boats should avoid all alcohol consumption before and during the boating excursion. Alcohol reduces a person’s ability to see, hear and react to danger, and it also impairs judgment.
  • If drinks are consumed during a stop while you’re boating, wait at least one hour per drink before operating the boat again. Pack plenty of nonalcoholic beverages such as sparkling water, alcohol-free beer, sodas and iced tea.
  • Major summer holidays are the most dangerous times for boating accidents. The Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays are dates to be especially aware of boating safety and BUI law enforcement.
  • Be a defensive boat operator, and be on the lookout for hazards, such as other people drinking on boats.
  • Stay informed about local boating regulations and laws, and follow these laws.
  • Boating operators and passengers should wear approved life vests at all times. Life vests prevent drowning accidents while boating.

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