What Is Boating under the Influence?

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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2019
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Boating under the influence (BUI) refers to operating a watercraft during or after the consumption of a substance that can impair mental faculties. Each jurisdiction has its own definition of boating under the influence, which can be limited to the consumption of alcohol or may extend to various narcotic and hallucinogenic substances. If an officer of the law notices a boat moving in an erratic manner, he is often permitted to flag the vessel down and perform field sobriety or chemical tests on the operator of the vessel. In many jurisdictions, a BUI conviction carries many of the same penalties associated with driving under the influence (DUI).

Due to the nature of boating, it may seem less dangerous to operate a watercraft when under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Boating is often a leisure activity, so many people that would never consider driving under the influence may not feel the same way about a boat. Operating a watercraft requires many of the same faculties as driving a car, and about one third of fatal boating accidents each year are associated with alcohol. In order to reduce these instances, many jurisdictions have laws aimed at punishing people for boating under the influence.


Each jurisdiction has its own definition of boating under the influence, so it is important to investigate the local laws before ingesting any alcohol, narcotics, or hallucinogens when operating a watercraft. In some areas the operator of a vessel has a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of less than 0.10%, though others may have stricter regulations. Some areas do not regularly have police boats on the water, while others have patrols running constantly. Most areas will have at least some police presence on the water during boating season or if a special event is taking place, and any boat that is moving erratically can typically be flagged down for testing.

If an individual is suspected of boating under the influence, an office can typically perform a field sobriety test or use a special device to check for blood alcohol content in the breath. The individual may be arrested if over the legal limit, and in some cases the boat will be turned over to the control of a passenger if a responsible, sober adult is present. Many areas treat boating under the influence in the same way as driving under the influence, and people convicted of a BUI may lose their driver's license, have to pay a fine, or even spend time in jail.



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