California Boating Under the Influence


Memorial Day, the unofficial kickoff to summer, has now past and Californians will be looking to the many local beaches, lakes, and rivers to cool off this summer. But think twice about bringing the alcohol refreshments aboard.

Although not as common as a California DUI, a boating under the influence charge (BUI) is prosecuted in much the same way as a DUI. Law enforcement will be on the lookout for those who take to the water drunk.

California Harbors and Navigation Code section 655 states:

(b) No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.

(c) No person shall operate any recreational vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more in his or her blood.

The Harbors and Navigation Code also provides a zero tolerance for aquaplanes and water skis.

While a California BUI is similar to a California DUI in many respects, there are some differences.

The penalties for a California BUI are similar to a California DUI; up to six months in jail, up to $1,000 in fines and fees, and a California DUI school. However, when charged with a California BUI, any prior California BUIs or DUIs will only enhance the punishment of the current BUI if they occurred in the last seven years. If you are charged with a California DUI, any California DUI or BUI that occurred in the last 10 years will increase the penalties of the current DUI.

If the driver of a water vessel is found with a blood alcohol content level of 0.05 percent or less, it is presumed that they are not under the influence. If the driver of a water vessel is found with a blood alcohol content level of 0.05 to 0.07 percent, the judge or jury must determine whether they were under the influence. If the driver of a water vessel is found with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, it is presumed that they are under the influence.

Unlike California’s open container laws, passengers and drivers of boats are allowed to drink while boating. It is only illegal for operators of boats to be under the influence while driving the boat.

Although it may not be illegal to operate a boat while drinking, California boaters need to take caution if doing so this summer. Forget about running the risk of getting arrested for a California BUI, they should do so for the safety of themselves, their passengers, and others on the water.

Remember, there are no lanes or other rules of the road, just open water.

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