Boating Under The Influence? Know the Risks

If you have been arrested for being under the influence while driving a motor boat

You have no doubt heard many public awareness appeals about the dangers of drinking and driving and the harsh penalties you could face if arrested for DUI / OWI in Wisconsin. But what you may not realize as we head into summer is that the danger and the legal penalties are just as bad for boating under the influence of alcohol.

Piloting a boat under the influence of alcohol is a risk you should not take. Nor should you use a Jet Ski, water skis, paddle board, surfboard or similar device if you have been drinking. Each of these activities is dangerous and illegal.

A boating DUI is based on the same legal limit of alcohol consumption as driving a motor vehicle, with 0.08 percent blood-alcohol concentration being illegal and presumptive evidence of impairment. A person under the age of 21 who operates a boat cannot legally have any alcohol in their system.

You may also be found guilty of OWI if you are found to be “under the influence of an intoxicant to a degree which renders (you) incapable of safe motorboat operation,” regardless of how much you have had to drink.

The penalties for OWI on a boat or similar water vessel are much the same as for a motor vehicle, as well. You could be fined $150 to $300 for a first offense. Afterward, you could face:

  • A $300 to $1,000 fine plus jail time of 5 days to 6 months for a second offense
  • A fine of $600 to $2,000 plus 30 days to 1 year in jail for a third offense.

Instead of losing driving privileges, after a conviction for boating OWI, you must complete an alcohol and drug assessment and successfully complete a boating safety course before you will be allowed back onto public waters. If you have already completed a boating safety course, that certification is revoked upon your OWI conviction.

Worse than a fine or loss of boating privileges, you could badly hurt yourself or someone else by operating a boat while impaired. If you were to kill someone by crashing your vessel or running into them while they are in the water, you could be charged with DUI vehicular manslaughter.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says it issued more than 150 citations for boating while intoxicated in 2014 and nearly 250 in 2013. Enforcement activity in 2014 included taking part in Operation Dry Water, an enforcement and awareness campaign conducted June 27-29, just before the Fourth of July. This work led to contacting 1,732 vessels and 4,701 boaters, and issuing 135 citations (7.79 percent of vessels), including six arrests for boating under the influence over the weekend. The highest BAC recorded was .17 percent.

The safest course of action is to never drink alcohol or use drugs before or while operating a motorized water vessel, water skiing or otherwise playing on or in the water. The physical and legal dangers are real and potentially deadly. But if you do drink and are arrested for DUI / OWI, you need an attorney as soon as possible.

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