What You Need To Know About DUIs And Boats

Posted on: 10 January 2017

If you're planning a day of fun in the sun and on the water and you plan on having a few drinks, there are a few things to keep in mind. Drinking while operating a boat actually carries more risks than driving a car. So here's what you need to know to stay safe and avoid getting in trouble.

Different Influencing Factors

There are a couple things that make combining alcohol with a boat particularly different than a car. In fact, the Coast Guard claims that alcohol is more dangerous on water than on land, and they estimate that more than half of all boating accidents involve alcohol or drug use. You see, when you're boating, certain factors can influence you—factors that don't always come up when you're in the confines of your car. Outdoor heat, noise from crowds, the glare of the sun, the motion of the boat, and wind can all affect your perception. These factors actually make it a little harder to tell when you've had too much to drink.

Think about it. Because alcohol affects your balance, judgment, vision, and coordination, it's pretty easy to tell when those few drinks are taking effect when you're at home or at a bar. You can feel it the moment you stand up. But on a boat, there's constant movement and other natural elements to throw things off. When all these other factors are taken into consideration, boaters can actually become impaired faster than those who are drinking on land.

All Boats Included

Maybe you're thinking of heading out on a small fly-fishing excursion. It's going to be just you and your canoe with a couple of cold brewskies. You'll be tucked away in the corner of the lake with no one around. That has to be okay, right?

Wrong. In most states, it's illegal to operate any boat while under the influence, including non-motorized ones. In fact, all states have implemented BUI laws (or BWI, depending on your state), and most of them have set the max BAC at 0.08%. All of them come with their own set of penalties as well. For example, if convicted in Indiana, you could face fines, jail time, and the loss of both driving and boating privileges.

No "Safe" Amount

When it comes to drinking while boating, there aren't a number of drinks you can "safely" consume. But you may be curious about what it takes to get to that 0.08% BAC. Generally it varies, depending on your gender, weight, how much you've recently eaten, existing medical conditions, and whether or not you take medications. There are charts that provide a rough guideline, but the average 180-pound male can expect his BAC to be around 0.02% after one drink. Women tend to metabolize alcohol a little slower, so a female of the same size can expect a BAC of about 0.03% after that same drink. 

Boating While Anchored

There are some localities that allow you to consume alcohol while you are docked, at shore, or anchored. But do NOT assume that if you stop in the middle of a lake and drop your anchor, you're free and clear to drink to your heart's content. For example, if you're boating on Lake Eerie, you'll need to consult their charts to be sure you're outside of the navigation area and within a designated anchorage area in order to be safe. But in Minnesota, you have a little more free rein. In this Midwestern state, you have to be "actively" operating a motorized boat to be charged with a BWI. Know your state's laws before heading out, but also follow this general guideline: if you're not anchored in a spot where you can get out and walk on land, it's probably best to avoid the alcohol.

Be aware that some lakes do implement sobriety checkpoints. So just because you're not on the road does not mean you're immune to getting caught or injured. 

If you were charged with a BUI or BWI, it may be a good idea to talk with a BUI or DUI attorney about your options.