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State Boating Under the Influence Laws

Operating a motor vehicle after drug or alcohol consumption is dangerous and potentially deadly. But the dangers don't stop on the road. This also includes sailboats, yachts, motorboats, water skis, and other personal watercraft. You could face arrest for boating under the influence (BUI).

Federal law prohibits anyone from operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination, with a blood alcohol content (BAC) legal limit of 0.08%.

The U.S. Coast Guard reports that one-third of recreational boating fatalities involve a drunk operator. Roughly half of boating accidents involve intoxication. Being out on the water, with the bright sun and the motion of the watercraft, can speed up alcohol's effects.

A rise in alcohol- and drug-related boating injuries and fatalities prompted state legislatures to enact BUI laws. As with driving under the influence (DUI), legal penalties can range from hefty fines to losing your boating license to even prison time for causing death or serious injury.

This table outlines the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits under state and other laws for boating under the influence.

Jurisdiction BAC Legal Limit for Watercraft Underage BAC Level Possible Penalties for First Offense
Federal 0.08%   Up to $5,000 fine
Alabama 0.08% 0.0% $2,100 fine; 1 year in jail; boater's privileges suspended for 90 days
Alaska 0.08% 0.0% Up to $10,000 fine; 72 hours to 1 year in jail; 90-day license suspension; ignition interlock device required
Arizona 0.08% 0.0% $1,250 fine; minimum 10 days in jail
Arkansas 0.08% 0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; up to 1 year in jail; 6-month driver's license suspension; ignition interlock required
California 0.08% 0.01% $1,000 fine; up to 6 months in jail
Colorado 0.08%   Up to $1,000 fine; 5 days to 6 months of jail time; up to 2 years of probation; 96 hours of community service; 3-month boating ban
Connecticut 0.08% 0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; 6 months in jail plus probation; 100 hours of community service
Delaware 0.08%   Up to $1,000 fine; 60 days to 6 months in jail
D.C. 0.08% 0.0% $1,000 fine; 180 days in jail
Florida 0.08% 0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; up to 6 months in jail
Georgia 0.08% 0.02% $1,000; 1 year in jail; DUI alcohol or drug use risk reduction program
Guam 0.08%   Up to $5,000 fine; 48 hours to 1 year in jail
Hawaii 0.08% 0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; 5 days in jail; 14 hours of substance abuse treatment and education; ignition interlock device; 1-year driver's license suspension
Idaho 0.08% 0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; 1 year in jail; boater safety course
Illinois 0.08%
5 ng/ml of THC
0.0% $2,500 fine; 1 year in jail
Indiana 0.08% 0.02% $500 fine; 60 days in jail
Iowa 0.08%   $1,000 fine; 48 hours in jail; 1-year suspension of boating license; substance abuse treatment and education
Kansas 0.08% 0.02% $500 fine; 1 year in jail
Kentucky 0.08% 0.02% $250 fine or 24 hours in jail
Louisiana 0.08% 0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; up to 6 months in jail or 72 hours in jail plus community service and substance abuse treatment
Maine 0.08% 0.0% Minimum $400 fine; 48 hours in jail
Maryland 0.08%   $1,000 fine; 1 year in jail
Massachusetts 0.08%   Up to $1,000 fine; 30 months in jail
Michigan 0.08% 0.02% Up to $500 fine; up to 93 days in jail; 45 days of community service
Minnesota 0.08%   $1,000 fine; up to 90 days in jail; community service
Mississippi 0.08%   Up to $1,000 fine; 24 hours in jail; boating safety course
Missouri 0.08% 0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; 6 months in jail
Montana 0.08%
5 ng/ml THC
0.02% Up to $500 fine; 6 months in jail
Nebraska 0.08%   Up to $1,000 fine; 6 months in jail; substance abuse education; 6-month boating ban
Nevada 0.08%
2 ng/ml THC or 5 ng/ml THC metabolite
  Up to $1,000 fine; 6 months in jail
New Hampshire 0.08% 0.02% Minimum $500 fine; substance abuse screening and treatment; 9-month driver's license suspension
New Jersey 0.08%   Up to $400 fine; 1-year boating privilege ban; 7- to 12-month driver's license suspension
New Mexico 0.08%   Up to $500 fine; 90 days in jail or up to 1 year probation; boater's safety course
New York 0.08%   Up to $500 fine; up to 15 days in jail; 6- to 12-month boating privilege suspension; boating safety course
North Carolina 0.08%   Minimum $250 fine
North Dakota 0.10%   Up to $1,000 fine; 90 days in jail; 91-day boating ban
Ohio 0.08%
2 ng/ml THC
0.02% Up to $1,000 fine; minimum 3 days in jail
Oklahoma 0.08%   Up to $1,000 fine
Oregon 0.08%   Maximum $6,250 fine; up to 1 year in jail; all boat registrations suspended for 3 years; 1-year boating operation ban; boating safety course
Pennsylvania 0.08% 0.02% $300 fine; 6 months' probation; boating safety course
Rhode Island 0.08% 0.02% $250 fine; up to 60 hours community restitution; boating safety course; 45-day suspension of boating privileges
South Carolina 0.08%   $200 fine or 48 hours to 30 days in jail or 48 hours of community service
South Dakota 0.08%   Up to $2,000 fine; up to 1 year in jail
Tennessee 0.08%   Up to $2,500 fine; up to 11 months and 29 days in jail; 2-year boating operation ban
Texas 0.08%   72 hours in jail
Utah 0.05% 0.0% Minimum $1,300 fine; 48 hours' jail time or community service; boating privilege suspension
Vermont 0.08% 0.02% Up to $750 fine; 1 year in jail
Virginia 0.08% 0.02% $2,500 fine; 1 year in jail; 1-year boating operation ban; Alcohol Safety Action Program completion
Washington 0.08%
5 ng/ml THC
  Up to $5,000 fine; 1 year in jail
West Virginia 0.08% 0.02% $500 fine; 6 months in jail
Wisconsin 0.08% 0.01% Up to $300 fine
Wyoming 0.08%   $750 fine; 6 months in jail; up to 2-year boating operation ban

Boating Under the Influence

Law enforcement, the Coast Guard, park rangers, and game wardens patrol waters to ensure the area is safe. They may stop you if they reasonably suspect you are under the influence. They can also conduct random checks or set up sobriety checkpoints.

If your boat gets stopped, the law enforcement officer or the authority responsible for boating safety will ask you to submit to field sobriety tests and chemical tests to determine impairment. Chemical tests may include a Breathalyzer or other breath test. You may need to submit to a urine or blood test. These tests assess your blood alcohol level and if you have drugs in your system.

Most states include an implied consent provision as part of your boating privileges. This works the same as the implied consent attached to your driver's license. "Implied consent" means you agree to cooperate with law enforcement when asked to submit to chemical testing. You can refuse these tests. You can still face arrest and charges. You may be subject to additional penalties, especially if you are later convicted.

Penalties

Generally, for a first offense, BUI is a misdemeanor at a state level. However, you can face a federal misdemeanor charge, depending on who has jurisdiction over the waters where the arrest occurred.

If convicted, you will lose your boating privileges and pay huge fines. You may face jail time or probation and have your watercraft confiscated. You could need to complete a boating safety course before you can reapply for your boating license. Depending on your state, your BUI can impact your driver's license.

What Are the BUI Blood Alcohol Limits in Your State? Talk to a Lawyer

Boating under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is as dangerous as driving drunk. Learn more about your charges and suggested first steps by meeting with a DUI criminal defense attorney today.

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