As we approach summer people from all over the Central Valley will be visiting our state’s recreational areas for fun on the water. Many people may not be aware that Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is a crime that can carry significant penalties depending on the circumstances. It is important to understand that by operating a vessel on California waters, you have consented to be tested for alcohol and/or drugs if arrested by a law enforcement official. Refusal to submit to testing may result in increased penalties.
Boating Under the Influence can carry fines, jail or prison time, and an alcohol/drug education program. You may also face possible suspension or revocation of your vehicle driver’s license.
Much like driving a vehicle under the influence, it is a criminal offense in the state of California to operate a boat or any watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (at or above a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC of .08%). Boating DUI, BUI, DUI boating, or drunk boating can take place in a lake, river, or on the ocean. The Harbors and Navigation Code does not restrict passengers or the operator of a boat or watercraft from drinking alcohol or carrying open containers, aside from this fact, however, a BUI offense is almost identical to a DUI.
California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 655 states:
“(b) 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 and any drug. (c) No person shall operate any recreational vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more in his or her blood. (d) No person shall operate any vessel other than a recreational vessel if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent or more in his or her blood.”
Symptoms that typically attract law enforcement to the watercraft include:
- Right-of-way violations
- Equipment violations
- Lack of current visible registration
- Erratic driving of the watercraft
If you are stopped by law enforcement you may be asked preliminary questions, submitted to a field sobriety test, and possibly chemical testing (breath or blood). Officers are on the lookout for those operating watercraft under the influence and are eager to make arrests in an effort to keep water-sport areas safer for visitors.
If you have been charged with BUI it is advisable that you seek the counsel of an experienced DUI defense attorney. It is not uncommon for innocent people to have been falsely arrested or wrongly accused of this crime. Much like DUI charges, you may have legal remedies available to you if you are facing BUI charges.