Boating Under the Influence
Boating Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs, commonly known as BUI,
is very similar to driving a car under the influence (DUI). There is also
a federal law prohibiting boating under the influence that is enforced
by the Coast Guard. BUI laws apply to all types of boats – from
canoes and rowboats to cruise ships and foreign vessels operating in United
Operating a boat and driving a car require similar skills, for example,
peripheral and night vision, focus, the ability to distinguish colors,
judgment, coordination and reaction time. When these skills are affected,
it causes boaters to operate a boat like a drunk driver operates a car.
In other words, the police and coast guard look for boaters who are speeding,
driving erratically, driving without navigation lights at night, violating
right-of-way and no wake rules, etc. Because the boat's motion, vibration
and engine noise and the sun, wind and spray can intensify the effects
of alcohol, it often takes less alcohol than usual for a boat operator
to exhibit the signs of drunk boating.
Like a DUI traffic stop, a person suspected of BUI will be given field
sobriety tests and will be asked to take a blood or breath test to determine
his or her blood alcohol content (BAC). In California, a person with a
.08% BAC is presumed to be intoxicated. If the BAC is between .05% and
.08%, the person can be deemed intoxicated based on the BAC and other
evidence (e.g., boating violations, the field sobriety test results).
Minors (individuals under the age of 21) are not allowed to drink and
drive a boat. A BAC of just .01% is enough for a minor to be charged with a BUI.
BUI Law - California
California BUI law is contained in California Harbors and Navigation Code
section 655. The DUI and BUI laws are almost identical, other than the
lack of open container restrictions for boaters. According to the law,
it is illegal to operate any boat or other watercraft with a BAC at or
above .08%. It is also illegal to operate a boat under the influence of
any drug – illegal, prescription or over-the-counter. These restrictions
also apply to crew members of charter boats and water skiers. A commercial
vessel operator's BAC cannot be at or above .04%.
BUI Penalties - California
California BUI penalties are similar to the California DUI penalties:
- Basic BUI is a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to one year in
the county jail, and/or up to $1,000 in fines, plus penalty fees.
- BUI causing injuries can be charged as a felony and carries a sentence
of up to one year in state prison and up to $5,000 in fines, or both.
- BUI causing death is a felony and carries a sentence of up to 10 years
in state prison.
In addition to incarceration and fines, a person who is convicted of BUI
may be ordered to take a boating safety course and/or have his or her
driver's license suspended or revoked for up to five years.
Importantly, a BUI conviction is treated as a prior in future drunk driving
cases or drunk boating cases. In other words, if a person who has been
convicted for BUI is arrested for DUI within ten years of the BUI, the
DUI will be treated as a second offense. A second DUI or BUI offense carries
much harsher penalties.
In California, there are more than 150 state and local agencies enforcing
the boating while intoxicated laws. Because of the increasing numbers
of alcohol-related boating accidents, boating enforcement officers have
increased their efforts to arrest intoxicated boat operators. A criminal
defense attorney who is experienced in DUI and BUI cases is a key to obtaining
the best possible outcome for individuals charged with boating while intoxicated.