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San Diego Boating Under the Influence of Alcohol

  • September 1, 2017

    Boating and drinking laws are a little tricky because open containers are allowed on board in California, and boat operators and passengers are allowed to consume alcohol. If consuming alcohol, you must take into special consideration California laws and your ability to operate the vessel in a safe manner.

    Boating under the influence (BUI) is a serious offense in California. It’s important to know what the laws are and potential consequences of driving a vessel while intoxicated. In California, this only applies to motorized vehicles, not self-propelled boats like kayaks and rowboats.

    Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Levels
    For recreational vehicles, you can be convicted of a BUI if your blood alcohol level is at or above 0.08%, even if your driving did not seem to be affected. For drivers of commercial vessels – like fishing boats, passenger ferries, and tour boats – the legal limit is lower, just 0.04%. For those under 21 years old, there is a “zero tolerance” law where any amount of alcohol detected can lead to a BUI.

    Being Pulled Over
    If an officer has reason to believe you may be intoxicated, he or she will require a blood, urine, or breath alcohol test. If you refuse the test and later are convicted of a BUI, you may be given a longer jail or probation sentence and/or larger fine.

    Proving Intoxication
    A prosecutor may prove you were intoxicated by either your demeanor (proving you were impaired by an “appreciable degree”) or by your BAC. A prosecutor may use behavior such as slurred speech, red and watery eyes, or unsteady gait to prove drunkenness.

    Regarding BAC, if you test under 0.05%, it will be presumed that you were not under the influence. If a prosecutor wants to try to prove otherwise, he/she will need to provide other facts. If you are between 0.05% and 0.08%, intoxication will not be presumed either way, and it will be up to the prosecutor and defense to make their cases. At 0.08% and above, no evidence other than the BAC is needed to prove intoxication.

    First Offense
    A first offense (as long as no injuries have occurred) is usually a misdemeanor. Penalties may include up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Alternatively, you may receive a “misdemeanor probation” (also known as “summary probation”). This court-supervised probation is an alternative to jail time, and you will have to comply with certain conditions like completing an 18 or 30 day substance abuse education or treatment program.

    If your first (or any subsequent) offense causes bodily injury to another person, it may be considered an “aggravated BUI”. To receive this charge, you must be operating the vessel under the influence while ALSO doing something illegal (like speeding). If this is the case, you may receive a misdemeanor or a felony. This will depend on the allegation and what your criminal history is. If it is considered a misdemeanor, you could go to county jail for a minimum of 90 days and up to 1 year and/or a receive fine of $250-$5,000. If it is considered a felony, a jail sentence could be 6 months, 2 years, or 3 years.

    Second and Subsequent Offenses
    Potential jail time and fines increase if you’re convicted of a BUI and you’ve had a BUI or DUI in the last 7 years. You may be incarcerated for up to 1 year and/or be required to pay up to $1,000 in fines.

    Additionally, any boater convicted of a BUI will be required to complete a boater safety course within 6 months of their conviction.

    With alcohol being commonplace on boats, vessel operators should take extra precaution and understand their responsibility to drive safely. Knowing California law, what it takes to get a BUI, and possible punishments is a must.

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