Can I Get a DUI While Boating?

The California Harbors & Navigation Code

Yes, in California, you can be arrested for a DUI while boating. This is commonly referred to as boating under the influence or a BUI. According to California Vehicle Code § 23152, it is unlawful to drive a vehicle while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage, and it is illegal to drive a vehicle with a blood alcohol percentage over 0.08%. Though very similar to a DUI, a BUI is not the same as a DUI, nor is it charged under the same code.

BUIs are charged under the California Harbors and Navigation Code. According to the California Harbors and Navigation Code § 655, "no person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage or drug."

Just as with the Vehicle Code, the Harbors and Navigation Code also stipulates that it is unlawful to operate a recreational vessel with a blood alcohol percentage of 0.08% or higher. Furthermore, Statute 655 also states that it is illegal for a person to operate any vessel other than a recreational vessel (such as a commercial vessel) if they have an alcohol concentration of 0.04% or more.

This means that if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol, you may receive a BUI while operating a:

  • Aquaplane
  • Cargo vessel
  • Commercial vessel
  • Fishing vessel
  • Jetski
  • Patrol boat
  • Shipping vessel
  • Speed boat
  • Sailboat
  • Water skis
  • Wakeboard

What to Do If You Are Charged with a DUI While Boating

When you are arrested for a BUI or a DUI, you will be required to take a chemical blood alcohol test. It is important to remember that refusing to take the chemical test may be used against you during your case, just as it can during a DUI case. BUIs are typically charged as misdemeanors, especially for a first offense. However, certain aggravating circumstances can lead to a felony charge. No matter how your BUI is charged, you should always take the situation seriously.

The penalties for a BUI can be just as significant as a DUI, and penalties are determined based on whether it is a first or subsequent offense. Penalties can include jail time, fines, probation, and mandatory attendance in a substance abuse and treatment program. If you have subsequent BUI or DUI convictions, your penalties may be enhanced.

If you receive a DUI or BUI charge while boating, it is important that you secure legal representation as soon as possible. BUI charges are just as serious as regular DUI charges, and having a skilled lawyer by your side can be invaluable.

How to Avoid a BUI This Summer

Many people look forward to getting out on the water during the summer. From water skiing and tubing to enjoying a leisurely sail, watersports continue to gain popularity. Because no open container laws prohibit alcohol consumption while on a boat, it is not uncommon to find alcohol included in people's boating outings. Due to the prevalence of alcohol, it is very important that you and the people boating with you adhere to local laws, have a designated driver, and familiarize yourself with boating safety guidelines.

Keep reading for three helpful tips on avoiding a BUI this summer.

Don't Drink While Operating a Vessel

If you are responsible for operating a boat or other watercraft, you should avoid consuming alcohol entirely. If you are going out in a group, speak with your friends and family, and designate a sober driver for the boat. This will help keep everyone safe and can help prevent you from getting a BUI. Similarly, if you plan to water ski, wakeboard, or go tubing, you should also avoid drinking alcohol. Save the drinks for after you're done on the water.

Stay Hydrated

Many people don't appreciate how dehydrated they can become on the water. Not only is it hot, but if you are water skiing or do some other type of water sport, the exertion can cause you to become dehydrated. Being dehydrated can cause alcohol to affect you differently, and even just one drink while dehydrated can impair you. Make sure to bring plenty of drinking water with you and stay hydrated throughout the day. You should also bring plenty of food with you as well.

Take a Water or Boating Safety Course

Boating safety courses are invaluable. In addition to teaching you good water safety, they also teach you what to do during an emergency. Though we hope everyone has a safe, fun time while out on the water, accidents do happen. Knowing what to do and how to act quickly can be the difference between life and death. If you own a boat or plan to spend time on the water this summer, you should enroll in a local water or boating safety course.

If you've been charged with BUI, reach out to our law firm to schedule a consultation today.


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