BOATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE
California offers an abundance of outdoor activities. In the summer, we head out for the ocean, lakes and rivers with boats and jet skis in tow. Sunscreen? Check! Beach towels? Check! Beer in the cooler? Check! Designated boat driver? Ummm….
In California it is just as illegal to drive a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs as it is to drive a car. The laws concerning boating while under the influence are virtually the same as those for driving under the influence. You can be arrested for driving a boat, manning jet skis, or any motorized device, or, for that matter, manipulating water skis or similar equipment, if you are under the influence of any alcoholic beverage, drug, or combination of the two. In other words, the law encompasses more than just driving a boat; it’s illegal to operate or manipulate almost any equipment on the water while under the influence. Yes, you can be arrested for waterskiing or wakeboarding if you are under the influence while doing so!
If your blood alcohol content measures over .08% and you were operating or manipulating any water equipment at the time, you are presumptively under the influence of alcohol and will be arrested. If your blood alcohol content measures between .05% and .08%, you are not presumptively under the influence but the officer is permitted by statute to consider your demeanor, behavior, and other evidence in order to make a determination whether you are under the influence.
A first offense for unlawful boating while under the influence (this would include operating or manipulating any water device but for the sake of clarity we will refer to it as “boating while under the influence”) is a misdemeanor punished by a maximum fine of $1,000 or imprisonment in county jail for not more than six months. This is similar to the punishment for driving under the influence and the violator will rarely, if ever, actually be sentenced to county jail. As with driving under the influence, a boating under the influence violation will usually result in a grant of probation with additional requirements that the violator successfully complete alcohol or drug education classes.
Subsequent boating while under the influence violations within a period of seven years of the first will result in stiffer penalties. It is important to know that a boating while under the influence is a priorable offense, meaning that it will count as a under the influence charge whether the offense was committed while driving a vehicle or operating water equipment.
If a person causes an accident or injury while operating or manipulating water equipment, the penalties can be stiff. If someone is injured by the equipment you are operating and law enforcement determines that you were under the influence at the time, you can be charged with a felony and could be sentenced up to one year in prison. Causing the death of another while boating under the influence can result in manslaughter charges. Depending on the circumstances, a conviction on this charge could land you in prison for up to ten years.
While we rarely stop to consider that our leisure fun-time could be ruined by “one-too-many,” it’s always something to consider—especially when we are enjoying our beautiful waterways, often with a drink in hand. Over 150 state and local agencies are on our California waterways enforcing the boating laws; don’t give them a reason to arrest you. Not only is it dangerous to engage in water sports while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but it could spoil a nice vacation. If you are going to engage in water sports such as jet skiing or waterskiing, enjoy it sober and just as you do when going out for a night on the town, always designate a sober boat driver.
If you are arrested for boating while under the influence, don’t brush it off. A boating while under the influence is almost as serious, if not as serious, as a DUI. You should consult with an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible who can explain your options and assess possible defenses based on the facts of your arrest.