States criminalize DUIs because cars are very powerful vehicles that can cause serious harm to others if the driver is incapacitated. For the same reason, operating a watercraft or boat while intoxicated is held to be a very dangerous crime, also known as a BUI. BUIs are the cause of an increasing number of fatal and non-fatal injuries that occur on the water. According to the most recent study by the United States Coast Guard, alcohol was a contributing factor in almost one quarter of all boating injuries.
Elements of a BUI
BUIs are very similar to DUIs and involve operating a boat or other watercraft on a body of water while under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicant. BUIs are not limited specifically to alcohol, but can result from illegal drug use or the use of prescription or over-the-counter medicines that affect an individual’s mental clarity.
BAC limits for BUIs are generally similar to those for DUIs, although some states raise the limit to 0.10%.
Like a DUI, some state statutes create a per se BUI offense that occurs whenever a driver’s blood alcohol content is over the legal limit. This legal limit is often the same for both DUIs and BUIs, .08 percent, but some states raise the BUI blood alcohol limit to .10 percent. Similarly, many states have also implemented zero tolerance laws for minors who consume alcohol while on the water. This means that minors may be charged with a BUI for consuming even small amounts of alcohol and then operating a boat, jet ski, or other recreational craft.
BUIs are typically investigated using the same methods as a DUI, involving sobriety tests, breathalyzers, and blood alcohol tests. Refusing to participate in these tests can result in criminal consequences. Often, law enforcement officers may set up BUI checkpoints on lakes or other bodies of water, or have enforcement officers do random stops of watercraft to check for alcohol consumption. These are particularly common on busy holiday weekends, when alcohol consumption is especially likely.
Law enforcement officers may also pull over a boat or personal watercraft for suspicion of intoxication if the driver is driving erratically or putting other boaters at risk. In some states, the testimony of officers and witnesses that the driver was acting in an impaired manner can be sufficient to support a charge of a BUI.
Penalties for BUIs
Drivers of boats and other watercraft who are charged with a BUI may face fines or jail time depending on the severity of the offense and the driver’s blood alcohol content. Since boating also requires a separate boating license, drivers may face the prospect of having their boating privileges suspended or their boating license revoked. Courts may require drivers to complete a boating safety course or alcohol education class before receiving their licenses back.
Commercial boat operators may receive even harsher penalties, given that they are responsible not only for their own safety, but also for the safety of their customers. Although not typically imposed for an initial violation, repeat BUIs may result in a commercial boat having its commercial license permanently revoked and its business shut down.