Baltimore, Maryland


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Maureen May
Maureen May
Attorney • (410) 321-6000

BUI Laws: Keeping the Water Safe From Impaired Boaters

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States have enacted drunken driving laws to help keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe, but many people are unaware that all states as well as the federal government have laws against Boating Under the Influence, or BUI. BUI laws allow law enforcement personnel to stop boats and other watercraft if they suspect that the operators are impaired and unable to keep themselves, their passengers, and others on the water safe.

How Did BUI Laws Come About?

A rise in alcohol and drug-related boating injuries and fatalities encouraged state legislatures to pass BUI laws. According to the Insurance Information Institute alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. The factors that affect a boat operator’s physical and mental abilities on the water include:

  • Heat
  • Sun
  • Noise
  • Wind
  • Glare
  • The motion of the boat on the water for long periods of time

Due to these factors, experts consider alcohol to be more hazardous on water than on land.

Who Can Be Charged With BUI?

Drivers of a variety of watercraft can be charged with BUI, including those operating:

  • Speedboats
  • Sailboats
  • Yachts
  • Personal watercraft
  • Sailboards

Just like driving under the influence (DUI), a boating under the influence conviction carries with it a variety of penalties, including:

  • Civil fines
  • Forfeiture of boating license
  • Jail time and probation
  • Prison time in criminal cases involving an injury or death

Federal and state authorities can pull the operator of a boat or other watercraft over, just like on a highway or street, if they are suspected of drunk driving. Law enforcement officials may also set up BUI checkpoints on the water to question and check boat operators for BUI. Most state BUI laws have blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) limits of .08 percent, and over 20 states also have BUI laws for minors.