Learn More About DWIs

The Truth Behind BUI

May 26, 2017

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, roughly half of all boating fatalities involve the use of alcohol. This memorial day stay safe and stay smart; don’t drink and drive!

Just like drinking while driving, it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol, in all fifty states. Each state enforces its own unique penalties for operating a boat while under the influence. Penalties may include large fines, loss or suspension of license, or even jail time if caught. Most states set the legal limit of BAC to be .08, the same as the legal limit for operating a car. If you are operating a boat under the influence of alcohol, and your BAC is above .08, you could be issued a BUI. You could also be issued a BUI if you are operating a boat while under the influence of drugs, such as marijuana. Operating a boat while under the influence is considered a federal offense, with possible fines of $1,000-$5,000.

Top 5 rumors about boating and driving:

Drinking while operating a  boat is not as dangerous as drinking and driving a car.

Despite this commonly believed myth being held true, alcohol is the leading contributing factor in boating deaths. The fact is, someone operating a boat has many more factors to consider than someone driving a car. Such factors may include the depth of the water, whether or not there are any external factors around them, such as rocks or trees, the strength of the waves and what direction they are coming from, in addition to being aware of the other boats on the water. In addition, waterways are not marked by things such as lanes, stoplights, and stop signs. Operating a boat is challenging enough sober, especially in the dark, bright sunlight, or strong wind and rains. Adding alcohol to the mix can make the task of driving a boat extremely difficult and is likely to cause harm.

Boats are meant for partying!

Many people associate boats with partying, as it is common to see large groups of people on giant floating “party boats,” as they are commonly referred to. However, boats are meant to be a leisurely vehicle enjoyed with family and friends, they are NOT a means for the operator/operators to drink alcohol. Boat operators with a blood alcohol content of .10 or higher are ten times more likely to die in a boating accident than sober operators. The operator of a boat must not only be sober, but be able to concentrate in an environment that is free from too much distraction. It is often difficult for the operator of the boat to focus if they are surrounded by a crowd of drunk partiers!

Penalties for drinking and boating are lenient and I won’t get caught.

Operators who are found to be drinking while under the influence of alcohol can incur strict penalties such as the suspension or revocation of license, large fines, jail time, loss of boating vehicle, and in addition the operator may be arrested on the scene. Law enforcement has become stricter in recent years on BUIs. In addition to police and sheriff boat crew out on the open water, boaters can expect to encounter fish and game warden as well, who are authorized to handle BUIs. The Coast Guard, as well as any other federal, state, and local enforcement agencies are equipped with chemical testing devices that can test blood, breath, and urine samples. These samples are more than enough to test and possibly convict those above the legal BAC limit of .08.

It is okay to drink and operate a boat as long as it is not powered by a motor.

This is false as you can be issued a BUI for paddling a canoe under the influence of alcohol. BUI laws contain all boating vessels from canoes and rowboats to large cruise ships. Many boaters will turn off the motors to their boats and “float.” It is fairly easy for people to become unaware of their surroundings while “floating,” and can lead to drifting into unwarranted areas, such as shipping lanes. This creates a perfect opportunity for an unintended collision and is subject to trouble with the law.  In this past year, eight out of ten people who drowned involved boats that were smaller than 21 feet long.

It is okay to go for a swim after a few drinks if the boat is anchored.

Currents are often difficult to judge before entering the water, and a person that has had a few too many may judge the strength of these currents inaccurately. Currents can easily sweep people away, and before they know it, they are miles away from the boat in which they were on. Extended periods floating in the water, perhaps miles away from your boat, may cause hypothermia, especially in a person whose core body temperature is unregulated due to alcohol use. Decisions are easily impaired with the increasing use of alcohol, so if it may seem like a brilliant idea to jump off the edge of a dock for a quick dip in the lake, could become a catastrophic nightmare.  

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Updated: May 26, 2017 at 10:44 am