Boating Under the Influence

By John Fagan***

Boating under the influence (BUI) cases are more frequent during the spring and summer months because there are more people out on the water. While not as common as the typical DUI, it would be hard to find a boat without a cooler full of beer on a hot summer day. Here is what you need to know about boating laws. Random Safety Checks Boats can be stopped by law enforcement for no reason other than to perform a random safety check. The boat must stop, present registration, and show safety equipment even if the officer never sees or believes that any infractions have occurred. If the officer then suspects that the operator of the boat is impaired, further investigation may take place. This is unlike a DUI because on the highway, officers must have a lawful basis to pull someone over. Who is the Operator? In a car, it is obvious who the driver is. However on a boat anyone near the wheel of the boat can be deemed an operator. Even if someone is assisting the actual operator (helping guide or park the boat) they can be deemed an operator and subject to investigation. Sobriety Test Roadway sobriety tests are typically the tried and true “walk and turn” or the “one leg stand”. However, these tests obviously do not work as well on a rocking boat. Officers may use less reliable tests like the “palm pat” test where you keep one hand facing up and flip the other hand on top of the stationary hand while counting to ten or the “finger count” test where you touch your thumb to each finger of the same hand while counting. These tests are not standardized which may leave the operator vulnerable to false intoxication claims. Officers typically try to take the operator to dry land to perform the standardized tests, but it is not always practical due to distance. Consequences If you refuse a breath test during a lawful BUI arrest, you will face a $500 civil penalty that can be challenged at a hearing as long as the request is made within 30 days of the arrest. However there are no driver’s license suspensions when dealing with BUI cases. The penalties after a BUI conviction are nearly the same as a DUI conviction. Both require probation, possible fines, community service, and substance abuse evaluation for first time offenders. Repeat offenders will receive the same jail minimums. For example a boating operator may serve 10 days in jail for a second BUI conviction within a 5 year period of a first conviction.

Lastly, both DUI and BUI convictions are criminal convictions that cannot be sealed. As an attorney, if you are dealing with a BUI case, I am happy to help. You can always reach me at 1-855 FAGAN LAW or by email at John@JohnFagan.com.

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