Boating DUI: What You Need to Know

boating dui

Boating DUI in Rhode Island

In the United States, all fifty states have laws against driving a boat under intoxication (BUI), often called a boating DUI. In the state of Rhode Island, the law prohibits anyone from drinking and operating a watercraft including:

  • Powerboat
  • Sailboat
  • Personal watercraft
  • Canoe
  • Kayak
  • Rowboat
  • Paddleboard
  • Or any similar device

Intoxication refers to being under the influence of alcohol with the state legal blood alcohol content limit being .08%. Incidentally, alcohol is a leading contributor to boating fatalities and accidents. However, intoxication also includes being under the influence of a controlled substance or drugs that impair motor skills and cognitive abilities. Controlled substances blur vision, impair judgment, slow reaction times, disrupt equilibrium, and ruin coordination. For this reason, these symptoms alone or combined make operating a watercraft or boat dangerous for the driver, passengers, and surrounding people.

Boats are naturally unstable vessels that lack proper seating and safety measures the government enforces on land vehicles. This makes them even more dangerous for inebriated passengers. Authorities encourage both boat operators and passengers to remain sober during their outing for overall safety. While a boating DUI is unpleasant, death and injury are by far the worst penalties for boating while intoxicated.

BUI Law in Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Alcohol Boating Safety Act prohibits the operation of any watercraft while under the influences of mind-altering substances such as drugs or alcohol.  The law defines “watercraft”  as any “device for transportation by water.” An officer can arrest a person in Rhode Island for a boating DUI if they:

  • Possess any amount of an illegal or controlled substance in the body
  • Test a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher, or
  • Are noticeably impaired by alcohol, drugs, or any controlled substance “to a degree which rendered such person incapable of safely operating a watercraft.”

Of course, the arresting officer determines whether or not the driver is noticeably impaired. Incidentally, they look for signs including slurred speech, red eyes, lack of coordination, and poor balance to determine inebriation.

Types of Boating DUI

There are four different classifications of BUI in the state of Rhode Island:

  1. Alcohol per se BUI:
    Alcohol “per se” BUI covers boating arrests where the operator tests a BAC of .08% or greater.
  2. Drug per se BUI:
    A drug per se BUI covers boating arrests where the operator possesses any concentration of drugs or a controlled substance in the body.
  3. Alcohol-impairment BUI:
    An alcohol-impairment BUI covers boating arrests where alcohol intoxicates the operator “to a degree which rendered such person incapable of safely operating a watercraft.”
  4. Drug-impairment BUI:
    A drug-impairment BUI covers boating arrests where drugs or a controlled substance intoxicates the operator “to a degree which rendered such person incapable of safely operating a watercraft.”

BUI Penalties in Rhode Island

Penalties for a boating DUI in Rhode Island vary depending on the particulars of the case being tried. However, the state of Rhode Island treats BUI convictions very seriously. Therefore, consequences are typically severe. In fact, depending on the circumstances of the arrest and which type of BUI the operator incurs (see above), the charge can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. Finally, penalties for a boating DUI include fines, time served in jail, community service, and the suspension of boating license.

First-time offenders typically face a misdemeanor. In this case, they pay $600 to $900 in fines, serve up to 60 hours of community service, and may see a three to a six-month suspension of their boating privileges. Additionally, first-time offenders face up to a year in jail. By and large, repeat offenders and those possessing illegal controlled substances face harsher penalties.

Rhode Island BUI Attorney John MacDonald

For over 20 years, attorney John MacDonald has served Rhode Island. In fact, he practices law in the areas of Criminal Defense, Family Law, Immigration Law, and Post-Conviction Relief. Additionally, he is the former president of the Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Consequently, MacDonald’s expertise helps people craft effective defenses. If you face a boating DUI charge in the state of Rhode Island and need legal representation, contact BUI attorney John E. MacDonald at 401.421.1440.