Boating Under the Influence

Boating Under the Influence

We’re in the heyday of summertime here in Southern Maryland, and for many of us that means one thing: boating! Whether you own a boat or have a close family member or friend that owns one, summer down here just isn’t complete unless you’ve spent at least one weekend crabbing, tubing, or cruising the waters of the Bay or one of the many rivers that surround our lands down here in Southern Maryland. Most boat trips are all day endeavors- people pack snacks, sandwiches, drinks, and more to munch and sip on while they soak up some sun and wade in the cool waters. But if you’ve packed beer or wine coolers in your boat’s cooler, you might want to listen up: many people don’t know that you can be similarly charged with a DUI if you’re caught operating a boat under the influence of alcohol. It’s called Boating Under the Influence, or BUI, and it’s a serious offense that comes with steep fines and even the loss of your boating license. Read on to find out more about BUI’s and how you can enjoy responsibly while on the waters of Southern Maryland.

Despite boating’s popularity in Maryland, many people don’t realize that a boat is classified as a motor vehicle under the state’s DUI laws. Therefore, many of the same rules apply when a person is being charged for a BUI. Like a DUI, if you are caught operating a boat with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08% or higher, you can be arrested and charged with drunk driving. Officers will use many of the same field sobriety tests as in a DUI stop to determine if you are operating your boat under the influence. However, as many of these tests were designed to be done on land, their results are not always reliable. Other tests have been designed to be used specifically on boats, but such tests are so new that they are subject to a higher rate of error that their results cannot be considered reliable either. Ultimately, BUI charges are based on the operator’s BAC, and if it is higher than the legal limit of .08%, you can expect to be arrested and charged. According to the Maryland Natural Resources Police Boating and Recreation Vessels handbook, the US Coast Guard can pose a civil penalty under federal law, resulting in a fine up to $5,000, up to one year of imprisonment, or both. The Maryland Natural Resources Police can also subject a fine from the state up to $500 for a first time offense. Additionally, any person who attempts to operate a vessel on the waters of our state is deemed to have consented to taking a breathalyzer test. The court can impose an additional restriction that prohibits a person from operating any vessel for up to one year for refusing to partake in a breathalyzer test.

There is one big difference between a BUI and a DUI charge: when it comes to probable cause requirements, boaters are far less protected than a person operating a car. For example, a police officer is required to have a reason for pulling over a car (i.e. high speed, swerving, running red lights, etc.), but the Maryland Natural Resources Police and the US Coast Guard are authorized to search your boat at any time to perform standard inspections. Most people caught operating a boat under the influence are only charged after being stopped for a routine inspection.

The Maryland Natural Resources Police warns that drinking alcohol while operating a boat can actually heighten the negative side effects of consuming alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and can affect balance, vision and coordination. When combined with engine noise, vibration, sun and wind, alcohol causes boaters to become fatigued much more quickly than normal.

Whether you’re at the bar enjoying a few drinks with friends, or enjoying a beer or two while out on the boat with your family, always remember to enjoy responsibly. And if you or anyone you know is facing a BUI or DUI, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Ferrante & Dill today and let them help navigate you through the murky waters of the criminal justice system.


This blog post that is published by Ferrante & Dill is only available for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice. By viewing these blog posts, the reader understands there is no attorney-client relationship between the blog publisher and the reader. The blog post should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney, and we recommend readers to consult their own legal counsel on any specific legal questions concerning a specific situation.