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Boating Under the Influence and the Law

Posted in Safety on January 22, 2016

When people head out on the water on a hot summer day, many enjoy packing a cooler of their favorite alcoholic beverages or stopping at a restaurant on the water for a few cocktails. However, controlling a boat while under the influence (BUI) of alcohol or drugs is illegal in Texas. Here is what you need to know before the warm weather hits.

Boating vs. Driving Under the Influence

Many of the same rules that apply to DUIs apply to boating incidents. In recent years, sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement officers have really been cracking down on boaters who operate their watercraft while drinking. If they stop you and you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) over 0.08, you will go to jail. Unlike a vehicle stop, law enforcement does not need probable cause to stop a boat on the water. A law enforcement officer may also apprehend you or follow you back to shore if he or she believes your faculties have been impaired.

Who Makes Arrests on the Water?

Any law enforcement agency present on the water is authorized to make arrests for boating under the influence. Many boaters wrongly believe that only a sheriff’s department can make the arrest, but if a game warden from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department suspects a driver is boating under the influence, he or she can make that call. Every holiday weekend during the summer, the department makes several BUI arrests.

Can I Drink and Operate Any Watercraft?

Under the law, you should watch your alcohol consumption on any motorized watercraft. If you do choose to drink on the water, an activity that is inherently dangerous, make sure that you have a designated driver who meets all the requirements of operating a boat. A law enforcement officer can take action if he or she believes someone under the influence has or will be in control of the watercraft.

Crafts without motors and under a certain size are excluded from BUI laws, but you could face a public intoxication charge in certain circumstances. You will not face BUI charges for operating a rowboat, floating in an inner tube, or paddling a kayak or canoe.

Who Can Operate a Watercraft on Lakes and Rivers in Texas?

Children who are at least 13 and have passed an approved boater education course can operate a vessel alone. However, if law enforcement has reason to believe that the child is not certified or was not in control of the boat, they may still question and/or arrest an adult for BUI.

Should I Avoid Drinking Altogether?

Most boating experts recommend avoiding drinking on the water in general. Drinking in the sun increases the risk of dehydration and the chances of water related accidents. However, you should definitely avoid drinking if you plan to operate the boat. Do not give law enforcement any reason to believe you were, or might, operate the boat after drinking.

On the water, most stops are for routine safety checks involving life vests and other required boating items. As long as you are polite and do not show signs of potential intoxication, they will likely thank you and move on.

What if I See Someone Boating Under the Influence?

If you see someone behaving erratically on the water, give the craft a wide berth, and note the boat’s registration numbers. Contact law enforcement, and let them handle it. Boating accidents are often tragic, and those caused by careless behaviors such as drinking are entirely preventable.

Reach out to The Law Firm of Aaron A. Herbert, P.C. for questions involving BUI accidents.