There are about 17 million boats currently being used in the United States, which has 95,000 miles of shoreline, about 25,000 miles of navigable inland waterways, and 14 million acres of lakes. That’s a lot of boats on a lot of water. Every year, thousands of boating accidents occur, many of them involving serious injuries and even deaths. Unfortunately, a third of boating accidents are due to one or more of the boaters being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In each of the 50 states, boating under the influence (BUI) is against the law. Even the states that are landlocked have inland waterways where impaired boat operators have caused accidents. If the state doesn’t have an external shoreline, its own BUI laws will be used to prosecute a violator. If a boating accident takes place on U.S. shoreline waters, the federal BUI laws will also apply.
Penalties for BUI
The various state and federal statutes regarding BUI have strict penalties for operating a boat or personal watercraft (such as a jet ski) while under the influence. These penalties include:
- Large fines
- Revocation of operator privileges
- Serious jail terms
Blood Alcohol Concentration Limits
The federal government and states have differing blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) limits for BUI offenses. In addition, conditions surrounding the accident may increase a BUI sentence. In many states, if a minor child is in the boat while the operator is driving drunk, the penalty will be higher. Or, if the boat operator is under the age of 21, any measurable amount of blood alcohol will result in a BUI charge.
People Don’t Recognize the Danger
Many people don’t realize the potential for boating accidents based on alcohol or drug use. Americans aren’t as aware of the dangers of alcohol/drug use on the waterways as they are of driving a car while drunk or drugged. It’s not unusual for boaters to go out onto the water with a supply of alcohol as part of their recreation, although they wouldn’t drive a car while drinking. The risk of a BUI arrest is not on their minds.
The boating environment can easily increase a drinker’s impairment compared to the typical car-driving environment. Drink for drink, a boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than a car driver. The factors that can accelerate the effects of alcohol or drugs and result in boating under the influence include:
- The constant motion of a boat on the water
- Water spray
- Engine noise
- A boat operator’s use of prescription medicines compounds the above effects.
If you’ve been charged with BUI, you should seek the advice of an experienced attorney as soon as possible. The laws and conditions regarding BUI are special, and it’s best to have an attorney who is familiar with this field of law. Contact a BUI lawyer today for the assistance you need.