Boater Drinking Alcohol While Driving a Boat in Virginia WatersDriving under the influence (DUI) in Virginia is a serious offense. Charges for drinking while boating can be just as serious. Operating a motorboat while intoxicated is just as deadly. A recent study found alcohol as a contributing factor in over half of motorboat fatalities. Before you head onto the water and open up a bottle, learn about Virginia’s boating under the influence (BUI) laws. Have you already been charged with BUI? Your first step is to retain an experienced BUI lawyer.

Under the Influence, Behind Any Wheel

Most people know it is illegal to drive a car when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Despite how common it may seem to have a few drinks while boating, it is also against the law to operate a watercraft while intoxicated. This can result in a DUI arrest just like drunk driving. Boating while intoxicated (BWI) can lead to serious penalties too. The charge is just as serious.

One big difference between driving and boating under the influence has to do with passengers. In a car or truck, you cannot have an open container of alcohol. By contrast, passengers on a boat are allowed to drink. This applies both to when the boat is stopped and when it is moving. The person piloting the boat may be tempted to imbibe too, but this is against Virginia law.

BUI laws in Virginia apply to all water vessels, not just motorboats. It is illegal to operate a motorboat or yacht while intoxicated. But, it is equally illegal to drink and operate a canoe or kayak. Personal watercraft like water skis, surfboards, and sailboards fall under this law too. The law applies to skin diving and scuba diving as well. Preparing for a BUI case is similar to a DUI arraignment.

Virginia DUI and DWI Laws for Boating

The definition of “under the influence” is the same, whether a car or a boat. Also, Virginia has a “zero tolerance” policy for anyone under the age of 21. People under that age cannot drink at all while driving or boating. The rules for drugs are also the same.

  • Virginia Code § 29.1-738 prohibits operating a watercraft with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or higher than what is unlawful for driving a motor vehicle. This is a BAC of 0.08%, or 0.02% for people under 21.
  • Even if you have a BAC below 0.08%, you may still be charged if officers think you are under the influence because your speech, behavior, or movement seem impaired.
  • For cocaine, the limit is 0.02mg/L of blood.
  • For methamphetamine, the limit is 0.1mg/L of blood.
  • For phencyclidine (PHP) and ecstasy, the limit is also 0.1mg/L of blood.
  • The law extends to the influence of any narcotic drug or other self-administered intoxicant “of whatsoever nature.”

Possible Penalties for Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

There are serious penalties associated with a BUI conviction in Virginia. Like a DUI conviction, there are major life-long consequences too. Penalties are stricter if you have a history of other alcohol- or drug-related convictions:

  • The first offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This can include up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. You may also lose your boating license for up to 12 months. The judge may order you to attend a substance abuse treatment program and a boating safety course too.
  • On the second offense, most penalties are similar. You can still face up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The court may suspend your boating license for up to three years.
  • A more serious offense involving injury or death may be a Class 6 felony. The judge may sentence you to up to five years in prison. You may lose your boating privileges for up to two years. The judge may require substance abuse treatment and boating safety programs too.

All DUI and BUI convictions go on your permanent record. This shows up on background checks. Convictions are reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles as well.

Why You Need an Experienced Lawyer

Virginia laws for boating while intoxicated (BWI) can be complex. An experienced DUI lawyer can answer your questions. More importantly, James E. Short, PLC can work to build the strongest defense possible. Just like a DUI, a BUI charge is a serious crime that can have harsh penalties. You need experience and legal knowledge on your side. We have helped many clients beat a DUI charge.

If the BUI incident involves an accident, victims may pursue civil action too. This can relate to property damage, personal injury, and other perceived losses. They may seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, lost future earnings, pain and suffering, and more. A boating accident is much like a car accident. An experienced attorney can work with you to help avoid significant financial liability.

Call Us for Your Free Consultation

Before you speak to anyone else about your DUI or BWI charge, reach out to James E. Short, PLC. During your free consultation, we can assess your case and decide on the best steps forward. Call us today at 757-410-5042. Or, you can fill out our online contact form and we will be in touch within 24 hours. Let’s discuss how we can help with your criminal defense needs.