Nothing says a fun summer Louisiana weekend like taking the boat out on the lake with some friends. Don’t have too much fun, though, because boating under the influence can land you in hot water. You’re at risk for the same legal consequences behind the wheel of your boat as you are behind the wheel of your vehicle.
If you’re facing charges for boating under the influence, you need an experienced Baton Rouge boating DWI attorney to handle your case. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Ossie Brown have what it takes to handle any drug or alcohol charges, whether on land or water. Call 225-343-1111 to schedule a free consultation with a BWI attorney today.
How Common Are Alcohol-Related Boating Accidents?
The United States Coast Guard states that alcohol is more dangerous on water than it is on land. In 2020, they reported that 5,265 accidents occurred, resulting in 767 boating fatalities. The Coast Guard also reported that alcohol was the most significant contributing factor in boating accidents where the cause was known, making up 18% of the fatalities.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) reported 162 boating accidents in 2020, an increase from 2018, when there were only 129. The number of boating accident fatalities also increased that year, with the LDWF reporting 24 deaths.
Alcohol impairs your judgment no matter what type of vehicle you’re driving. Many people believe they’re much safer on the water than on roadways, but boating under the influence is just as dangerous, if not more so.
Can You Get a DUI on a Boat?
Yes, in Louisiana, operating a boat while under the influence is illegal. However, instead of getting a DUI or driving under the influence, you’ll be charged with a BWI/BUI, boating while intoxicated or under the influence. BUI laws and penalties are similar to those regarding DUI/DWI arrests.
In Louisiana, it’s illegal to operate a personal watercraft or other vessel:
- While under the influence of alcohol;
- Under the influence of any controlled substance listed under Substance I through V;
- Under the influence of both alcohol and any legally obtainable drugs, regardless of whether they have a prescription;
- With a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.
Even if you’re not driving the boat but you are the owner, you can also face penalties for knowingly allowing an intoxicated person to operate the boat. A boating DUI is a serious charge that should not be taken lightly. If you’ve been caught boating under the influence, contact an experienced Baton Rouge criminal defense attorney today.
What to Expect During a BWI Stop
Local law enforcement agencies and other government agencies monitor bodies of water. If law enforcement suspects that you’re operating your boat while under the influence, they can stop you and have you submit to a blood alcohol test and field sobriety test. By getting on the water, you already consent to taking these tests. If you’re found to be over the legal limit, you risk losing your boating license and boating privileges.
BWI Check Points
Law enforcement officers commonly set up BUI checkpoints on holiday weekends and peak boating season. In Louisiana, the LDWF is responsible for policing waterways, but many local and state authorities have their own watercraft they use to monitor boating activities. Regardless of the agency performing the BUI checkpoint, it will be conducted very similarly to one for drunk driving. During the checkpoint, the officer can question the boat operator and passengers.
If an officer has probable cause to pull your boat over for a suspected boating DUI, you could be asked to take a breathalyzer test. Like a DUI stop, you have the right to refuse the test, but it could result in you being turned over to the Coast Guard and used against you in court. Refusing to take the breathalyzer test could also result in fines between $1,000 to $5,000.
Field Sobriety Test
If you’re suspected to be operating a boat while under the influence, you could also be subjected to a field sobriety test. This test is different from one you would take during a standard traffic stop. Instead, boat operators must take a seated field sobriety test. Law enforcement officials faced issues when needing to conduct field sobriety tests for those on a boating excursion and would often be forced to find a testing location on land. When a person is pulled over for a suspected BUI, they will perform a series of tasks similar to the standard field sobriety test while remaining on the boat.
If you’re found to be over the legal limit, you can be arrested for boating while intoxicated. BUI charges are handled similarly to DUI charges and can result in large fines and jail time. In addition to having your boating license suspended and boating privileges revoked, you could be required to participate in a boating safety course. The boating safety course may also be required in order to become eligible to have your boating license and privileges reinstated.
BWI Penalties in Louisiana
The penalties for boating under the influence will vary depending on whether this is your first offense or if you’re a repeat offender. Hiring an experienced Baton Rouge attorney can help you receive reduced sentencing and possibly a complete dismissal of charges. You never want to take your chances against the legal system alone.
First-time BWI offenders are those individuals that do not have any previous driving or boating under the influence convictions within the past ten years. The penalties for the first BUI offense are as follows:
- Blood alcohol content (BAC) below 0.15%
- The individual can serve ten days or up to six months in jail and be required to pay $300 to $1,000 in fines.
- Sentences can be reduced to 48 hours or 32 hours of community service if the individual takes substance abuse and driving improvement courses as part of probation requirements.
- An interlock device can also be installed in the individual’s vehicle in exchange for a shorter probation period.
- Blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15% to less than 0.2%: Individuals are subject to harsher penalties and will most likely face at least 48 hours in jail.
- Blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.2% or more: Individuals must spend at least 48 hours in jail, pay between $750 and $1,000 in fines, and have their driver’s license suspended for two years.
A second BUI offense is considered any boating or driving under the influence conviction within the past ten years. The penalties for a second offense are as follows:
- Blood alcohol content (BAC) below 0.15%:
- The offender could spend 30 days to six months in jail and be required to pay $750 to $1,000 in fines.
- Sentences can be lowered to 48 hours or 32 hours of community service instead of jail, in addition to participation in substance abuse and driving courses.
- The individual may have an interlock device installed in exchange for a shorter probation period.
- Blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15% to less than 0.2%: Similar penalties as above, but the individual must spend at least 96 hours in jail.
- Blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.2% or more: The individual must spend at least 96 hours in jail and pay $1,000 in fines. Their driver’s license can be suspended for up to four years.
- Second BWI offense within one year of the first: The individual is required to spend at least 30 days in jail.
A person facing a third boating under the influence charge within ten years will be charged with a felony offense. Those convicted could be required to pay $2,000 in fines and between one to five years in prison. If the individual agrees to participate and is accepted into a diversion program, the sentence could be reduced to one year. During the time of the suspended sentence, the individual will be placed under supervised probation. The terms of the probation are:
- 240 hours of community service
- Having or obtaining a job
- Participating in court-approved driving courses
- A six-month home incarceration sentence
- Using an interlock device during the duration of the home incarceration and substance abuse treatment
Following a third BWI offense, the individual may be required to forfeit the boat or watercraft they were operating at the time of the offense. Under these circumstances, the boat or watercraft may be seized and sold at auction.
Call Baton Rouge DUI Lawyers at the Law Offices of Ossie Brown Today
Any time you’re charged with operating motor vehicles or watercraft while under the influence is considered a serious offense. Call the Law Offices of Ossie Brown to discuss your case with one of our Baton Rouge boating DWI attorneys. We will carefully evaluate your case and determine the proper course of action. Discussing your BWI charges with an attorney before proceeding with law enforcement officials is crucial, so call our law office at 225-343-1111 as soon as you’ve been charged.