It is illegal to operate a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol in every state, regardless of the type of boat. However, the power to make and enforce BUI laws is left up to the states.
The Coast Guard enforces federal laws prohibiting BUI, including all watercraft that enter United States waters and American ships on the high seas. BUI is a charge that law enforcement agencies take very seriously, and the penalties can be just as severe as those for a DUI charge.
Some common repercussions of a BUI conviction include jail time, fines, required attendance at lengthy alcohol education programs, boating safety classes with an additional alcohol education component, and community service or hard labor. In most cases, a conviction results in the suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges.
BUI penalties depend on the circumstances of the offense, the offender’s police record, and the state in which the incident took place, as BUI laws are determined by each state. The severity of the fines and penalties are also determined by the boater’s blood alcohol content level, whether or not people were harmed, or if there was property damage. In some states, the maximum penalty for a first-time BUI conviction is 90 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine.
If the operator of a boat is pulled over by law enforcement officials and asked to be tested for drugs or alcohol, the boater must submit to the test according to the implied consent law. This law states that by taking the wheel, whether it is in a car, boat, or any other vehicle, the driver agrees to be tested if suspected of driving under the influence. Refusal to take the test results in automatic license suspension or the revocation of boating rights, which in some states lasts over a year.
A boat operator is considered to be legally intoxicated if his or her blood alcohol concentration is 0.08% or higher. If a boater is found to have this level of intoxication, he or she is “presumed guilty” of boating under the influence. This results in automatic arrest, along with penalties such as license suspension or revocation of boating privileges.