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Don't Let Boating "Under the Influence" Spoil Fun on the Water

By Nerissa Sardi on April 22, 2009 4:33 PM

(ARA) - Heading out to enjoy a day of fun on the water this summer? If it involves boating, jet skiing or water skiing, you may want to think twice about the beverages you bring. More than half of all boating accidents involve alcohol or drugs. And with more than 17 million boats crowding our shorelines and inland lakes and rivers, our nation's waterways are second only to highways as the scene of accidental deaths in our country.
Because of the dramatic increase in boating-related accidents involving alcohol and drugs, more states and the federal government are getting tougher on pleasure boaters and fishermen who operate boats under the influence, also cited as a BUI. However, it can be an uphill battle, primarily because of open container laws that allow boaters to publicly display alcoholic beverages while in a boat, creating the perception that drinking while boating is okay.

All states and the federal government have BUI laws, which are very similar to driving while intoxicated laws. That means it's illegal to operate a watercraft, from paddleboats, canoes, rowboats and personal watercraft to big bass boats and the largest commercial ships, under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The U.S. Coast Guard and local law enforcement agencies cooperate to enforce stringent state and federal laws. Penalties can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges, and even jail time - just like driving a car under the influence and getting a DUI.
While laws about operating a motor vehicle under the influence vary by state, according to the legal experts at, the world's leading source for online legal information, there are strong similarities among most. Many states and the federal government presume that a person is operating a motor vehicle under the influence when a person's blood alcohol content (BAC) reaches 0.08 percent, but allow a jury to find a person is legally "under the influence" even when their BAC is below .08. A boat operator with BAC above 0.10 percent is estimated to be 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident than a sober operator. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boating under the influence contributes to 34 percent of fatal boating accidents.
Like a DUI, law enforcement officials can pull a boat operator over on suspicion that the operator is under the influence. And, it is becoming increasingly common for local law enforcement officials to set up BUI check points on the water, similar to roadside DUI checkpoints. Here are some tips from on how to avoid a BUI and also stay safe on the water this summer.
1. Don't drink while operating a boat. Appoint a designated boat operator. Or, better yet, save all drinking activities until you are safely on land.
2. Be overly cautious on major holiday weekends. The weekends of Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day are considered the deadliest weekends both on the water and on the road for accidents involving alcohol. Take extra care to use defensive boat operating skills during these weekends, and be aware that local law enforcement officials will step up their efforts to identify boaters who are under the influence.
3. Know your local boating regulations. If you trailer your boat to another state, or to Canada, read and clearly understand what the local regulations say about open containers of alcohol in a boat, and BUI laws. 
4. Beware of boater's fatigue. Hours on the water with exposure to noise, the sun, wind, glare and the vibration of the boat can produce an effect called boater's fatigue, which can affect a person almost as much as if they were legally drunk. Adding alcohol or drugs can multiply and intensify that effect.
5. Read the label on your prescription drugs. Common prescription medications, such as those to control blood pressure, could have side effects that could be multiplied by environmental factors such as too much sun. You can be charged with a BUI even if you haven't been drinking alcohol.
6. Wear your life vest. Because alcohol, combined with the elements, can impair your balance, wearing a life vest is a good idea. Many boating deaths and accidents could be avoided each year if boat operators and their passengers would simply wear their life vests. And don't forget - most states have laws that require children to wear life vests at all times while on a boat.
7. Get a lawyer. Because defending against a charge of operating a boat under the influence requires an understanding of scientific and medical concepts, it's best to hire an attorney who specializes in DUI and BUI law. If you need to find a lawyer, go to, which can help you quickly located an attorney specializing in DUI law.
To learn more about your legal rights or to explore other legal questions, visit


Learn More About Maritime Law or Boating Safety:

FindLaw Injury Blog: Florida Boating Accident Report Puts Spotlight on Maritime Law 

US Coast Guard Boating Safety Division:

Legal Dictionary (FindLaw): Admiralty Law

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