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Can you get a DUI while driving a boat?

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Can you get a DUI while driving a boat?

POSTED ON: 07/09/2020

You're cruising on the lake, or you're fishing offshore, or you're headed to meet friends at the camp for a weekend away. Then a game warden boat with flashing lights pulls up behind you to pull you over. What's going on? You were just minding your own business, right? "Hi sir! Have you been drinking?" You answer honestly, after all you're just driving a boat. You let the officer know you had 3 beers, and he proceeds to board your boat for further discussion. 

What does the law say?

If it has an engine, you can probably be charged for operating it while under the influence. In fact, you can even get busted for driving a vehicle without an engine. Impairment on the water, even in kayaks and small sailing vessels, leads to accidents and you may be charged depending on the circumstances. Laws vary so much from state to state, and law officials and judges must often interpret the laws. The basic elements in many of the non-car DUI cases seem to be that a person was above the legal drinking limit (based on blood alcohol content) and on, in, or operating something that was moving.

Can you really get a DUI while driving a boat or personal watercraft vehicle such as a Jet Ski?

It's definitely possible. Operating a motorboat while intoxicated is illegal in all 50 states, and you may receive a similar penalty for operating a recreational vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol as you would for driving a car or truck on roadways. Boating under the influence can be very dangerous.

Non-car DUI cases

Every state’s DUI / DWI laws vary, but some are very broadly defined. In some states, you may receive a DUI if you are in "physical control" of a vehicle and are too impaired to safely control that vehicle, even if it doesn't have an engine. You can browse the internet and, on seemingly legitimate news outlets, there is no shortage of reported cases of DUIs on things like bikes, horses, ATVs, forklifts, snowmobiles, and boats.

Stay sober or don’t drive…

…even if it’s "just" a boat. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, many boating fatalities involve alcohol. We should remember the dangers of driving drunk no matter what is being operated. If you need help driving safely, call us at (866) 447-8686. Stay up to date on things related to DUI and DWI by following our blog.

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