California is an ideal state for boaters. Along its 840 miles of coastline and across its dozens of lakes, boaters enjoy the quality of lifestyle that only California can provide. Boating is a recreational activity and, as such, invites other recreational activities such as drinking. However, alcohol is involved in a significant number of all boating accident fatalities. Because of this danger, boating is also regulated by many rules and regulations, just as driving a vehicle is. Drinking while boating can be unsafe if you are operating the boat or you are leaving the boat for the water. You may not consider drinking while operating a boat as an illegal activity. California waters are not patrolled as heavily as California highways are and what patrols are out on the water may not have the capability to identify impaired boating. That being said, boating on any of California's waters is not the same as driving on its roads, however those operating a boat or vehicle are held to the same standard.
Regardless of the difference between operating a vehicle and operating a watercraft, boating while under the influence of alcohol is illegal and dangerous. In general, operating a boat or other watercraft, to include water skis or similar devices, while under the influence of alcohol, also called a BUI, carries much of the same penalties as driving while under the influence does. In fact, the blood alcohol concentration limit of .08% is applicable to boating as well. A boating under the influence charge, or BUI, is generally charged as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. The penalties for a BUI increase in light of aggravating circumstances, just as DUIs do. Operating a boat or watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and injuring someone can be charged as a felony, punishable by one year in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000. Operating a boat or watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and killing someone is charged as a felony offense, punishable by up to ten years in a state prison.
While waterway patrol is vastly different than highway patrol, vessel patrol law enforcement officers also have a procedure to follow when they intend to pull over a vessel operator. Those pursuing vessel operators must turn on their siren and enact a blue light, used to indicate their intent. When these signs are present, you must reduce your speed and alter your course sufficient to allow the vessel patrol to apprehend you. When arrested for a BUI, you may have to submit to a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, test. Refusing the test can result in more jail time and/or fines with your BUI charge. It is important to note that if your BAC is over .05% but less than the legal limit of .08%, you could still be charged with a BUI, in the presence of corroborating evidence. If you are facing BUI charges but your BAC was under .08%, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. There must be additional evidence that you were under the influence in order for you to be convicted. A skilled attorney will be able to evaluate your case and advise you on whether or not the prosecution has sufficient evidence to charge you. It is also illegal for those under the age of 21 with a BAC of .01% or higher to operate watercraft. This offense is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and potentially an order to complete an alcohol education course or perform community service.
A BUI conviction in California will also mandate that you take a court-approved boating safety course. You can also have your driving privileges taken away from the California DMV. One important difference between alcohol consumption on boats and alcohol consumption in cars is that it is not illegal to drink while on a boat. It is only illegal to drink alcohol while operating a boat or watercraft. However, certain counties may have temporary alcohol on board laws, accounting for certain seasonal conditions. These are punishable by only an infraction, however, and are not a charge on your criminal record. In any case, when drinking onboard a boat, whether or not you are the operator, wear a life vest and stay safe.
Are your or a loved one facing charges of operating a boat while under the influence in Tulare, Kings or Fresno County area? Visalia criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens can best advise you on how to proceed with your case. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, every client gets the respect they deserve. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss strategic options for your fighting your charges.