Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Law

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 What Is a BUI?

BUI stands for Boating Under the Influence. It is a legal term used to refer to the act of operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other mind-altering substances. BUI laws are parallel to DUI (Driving Under the Influence) laws for motor vehicles.

B.A.C. refers to Blood Alcohol Concentration. This measurement is used to identify the amount of alcohol (ethanol) in an individual’s bloodstream. It is expressed as a percentage. For example, a B.A.C. level of 0.08%, the legal limit for driving or operating a boat in many jurisdictions, means that there are 0.08 grams of alcohol for every 100 milliliters of blood.

Why Are BUI Laws Important?

BUI laws are important for several reasons:

  1. Safety: Boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs significantly increases the risk of accidents. Impaired operators may have slower reaction times, reduced coordination, and impaired judgment, which can lead to collisions or other types of accidents.
  2. Prevention of harm: BUI laws are designed to prevent harm to both the boat’s occupants and others who are in the water. This includes swimmers, other boaters, and wildlife.
  3. Deterrence: By making it illegal to operate a boat while impaired, BUI laws act as a deterrent for negligence. They discourage boating under the influence and encourage safer boating practices.
  4. Justice: If an accident does occur, BUI laws ensure that those who were operating under the influence can be held legally responsible for their actions.

What Are the Elements for a BUI?

Like DUI laws, the elements that must be proven for a BUI charge include the following:

Operation of a Vessel

This element requires that the individual be in control of the boat or other watercraft. It’s not necessary for the boat to be moving; being at the helm or in control of its operations is sufficient. For example, if an individual is found in the driver’s seat of a stationary boat, with the keys in the ignition and the engine running, they could be considered to be operating the vessel, even if the boat hasn’t moved.


This element involves demonstrating that the boat operator was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other mind-altering substances. For example, if an individual was observed to have slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance, or the smell of alcohol on their breath, these could be signs of impairment. Field sobriety tests could also be administered, such as asking the individual to walk in a straight line or stand on one leg.

Additionally, chemical tests can provide more definitive proof of impairment. For instance, if a breathalyzer test indicates a B.A.C. level above the legal limit, this would provide evidence of impairment.

Level of Intoxication

This element involves showing that the boat operator was legally impaired, which usually means that their B.A.C. level was at or above a certain limit. For example, if an individual takes a breathalyzer test and the result is a B.A.C. of 0.08% or higher, this would meet the level of intoxication element in many jurisdictions.

However, even if the B.A.C. is below the legal limit, the operator could still be considered impaired if there’s evidence that their ability to safely operate the boat was affected by the substance they consumed. For instance, if the operator was unable to navigate the boat correctly or keep a proper lookout due to being under the influence, these could be signs that their ability to operate the boat was impaired, even if their B.A.C. was below the legal limit.

What Are the Penalties for a BUI?

The penalties for Boating Under the Influence can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction and the specifics of the case, but they often include:

  1. Fines: Monetary penalties are common, and the amount can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the severity of the incident or boating accident.
  2. Jail Time: Some BUI offenses may result in jail time, especially in cases involving repeat offenses or where the BUI results in an accident, property damage, injury, or death.
  3. Boating License Suspension or Revocation: Many jurisdictions may suspend or revoke the offender’s boating license for a certain period.
  4. Probation: The offender might be placed on probation, during which they must fulfill certain conditions, such as attending alcohol education programs or performing community service.
  5. Restitution: If a BUI offense results in an accident that causes property damage or injury, the court may order the offender to pay restitution to the victims.

How Can I Reduce the Risk of Being Arrested for BUI?

Here are some tips for reducing BUI arrest risks:

Designate a Sober Operator

Just like you’d designate a sober driver for a car ride after a party, it’s a good idea to assign someone who won’t be drinking alcohol to be in charge of operating the boat. This person can ensure that the boat is operated safely and that everyone on board gets back to shore without incident.

For example, if you’re planning a day out on the water with friends and you know that alcohol will be consumed, talk to your group ahead of time to decide who will stay sober and handle the boating responsibilities.

Avoid Consuming Alcohol or Drugs while Boating

The most straightforward way to avoid a BUI is simply not to drink or use drugs while you’re out on the water. Keep in mind that boating requires focus and quick reaction times, just like driving a car. Sun exposure, wind, and the motion of the boat can enhance the effects of alcohol, leading to impaired judgment and coordination more quickly than you might expect.

As an example, consider bringing non-alcoholic beverages for a boat trip instead of beer or wine. Not only does this lower the risk of a BUI, but it also helps to keep everyone hydrated, which is particularly important when spending time in the sun.

Understand the Laws

Ensure you know the BAC limit for operating a boat in your jurisdiction, as well as the penalties for breaking this law. Remember, BUI laws apply regardless of whether your boat is in motion or anchored.

For example, if you’re planning a boating trip in a new state or country, do some research beforehand to understand the local BUI laws. This can help you avoid unintended legal issues.

Boating Safety Courses

Boating safety courses are an excellent way to understand the rules of the water, including BUI laws. These courses typically cover safe boat operation, navigation, and emergency procedures, as well as the effects of alcohol and drugs on boat operations. Taking a course can help you understand why these laws are in place and the risks of ignoring them.

For instance, a boating safety course may use real-life examples of boating accidents caused by alcohol or drug impairment, highlighting the very real dangers of BUI. Completing such a course may not only help avoid a BUI charge but could also potentially save lives.

Do I Need the Assistance of a Lawyer if I Am Charged With a BUI?

If you are charged with a BUI, it is strongly recommended that you seek legal assistance. BUI laws can be complex, and a lawyer who handles DUI/DWI cases will understand the legal intricacies involved. They can help you understand the charges against you, navigate the court system, and develop a strategy for your defense.

A resource like LegalMatch can be incredibly helpful in finding a DUI/DWI lawyer. LegalMatch is a legal matching service where you can submit your case details online, and local DUI/DWI lawyers who are interested in your case can respond. This allows you to review and compare lawyers based on their experience, practice area, and cost, helping you find the legal representation that best suits your needs.

If you’re facing BUI charges, use LegalMatch to find a qualified lawyer who can help you defend your rights.

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