Can I Drive a Boat After I Get a BUI?

In most states, if you refuse to undergo a breath, urine, or blood test at the request of a law enforcement officer following some boating incident, an automatic penalty applies that may be similar to an automatic driver’s license suspension for a refusal to take a similar test if stopped while driving. Some states limit the suspension or revocation to boating privileges, while others will take away your vehicle driving privileges, too.

Similar to losing your driver’s license automatically if you are arrested for DUI-DWI, your boating privileges may be automatically suspended if you are arrested for BUI-BWI and you have a positive test for either alcohol or drugs. Some states have no automatic suspension. So in some states you cannot drive a boat after you get a BUI.

Much like the qualified right you have to a driver’s license, the qualified right you have to operate a boat cannot typically be taken away without you having notice and an opportunity to be heard. This is not a criminal hearing. It usually only controls whether or not you lose your right to operate a boat, not any punishment for any crime.

The length of this revocation or suspension of boating privileges is state-specific, and usually lasts from 6 months to a year for a first offense. Suspensions are typically longer for subsequent offenses.

Boating Under the Influence Penalties

The penalties you face if convicted of BUI-BWI depend on the individual state which convicts you, and if this is your first or a subsequent offense. For first offenses, you typically face up to 6 to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2500. In Florida, your vessel is also impounded, whether you own the vessel or whether it was just a boat owned by someone else that you were using.

Can My Boat Be Stopped Without Reasonable Suspicion?

The level of your activity for a police officer to have “reasonable suspicion” in order to legally stop you while you are in a boat appears to be less than or the same as what is needed for this same officer to stop you if you were driving your car. An example would be if a law enforcement officer sees you with a can of beer in your hand while you are boating, this equates to reasonable suspicion that you may be BUI and the officer can stop you to check.

In some states, “reasonable suspicion” or “probable cause” is needed to stop you in a boat. In other states, such searches can be performed by the police on a public lake without cause. Plus, if the police cause injury to someone on a vessel that is being randomly stopped, they are likely immune from civil liability under an immunity statute.
The same right to stop a vessel without probable cause may not exist, however, on a private lake. While most states have not litigated this question with regard to BUI-BWI, it is likely safest to assume that unlike your home, the police may stop your boat at any time and inspect you and the contents for illegal activity. This is particularly true if you are on the open seas (ocean) on an intercoastal waterway.

Unlike any such publishing requirement for DUI-DWI testing rules or regulations, these regulations do not likely apply to BUI-BWI. Check with your local criminal defense attorney to get further information about your jurisdiction.