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Is it illegal to have a beer while boating?

It is a well-known fact that it is illegal to drive a car, truck or motorcycle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A lesser known – but equivalent – misdemeanor offense is boating under the influence (BUI). It’s important to understand what qualifies as BUI, and what you can do if you’re facing this charge.

Are all water vessels treated equally?

When it comes to boating under the influence, the type of boating vessel matters. Boating under the influence refers to operating a mechanically propelled vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Under California law, operating these types of vehicles while under the influence is illegal:

  • Motorboats
  • Water skis
  • Jet skis
  • Aquaplanes

However, operating these types of vehicles while under the influence is legal:

  • Kayaks
  • Canoes
  • Rafts
  • Non-motorized sailboats

What are the penalties?

The penalties for boating under the influence are essentially the same as for driving under the influence. You may have to attend a drug or alcohol treatment program. You could also face fines, probation and possible jail time.

In addition, it’s important to understand that a BUI is considered a “priorable offense.” This means that if, sometime down the road, you pick up a DUI charge and already have a BUI conviction on your record, your new DUI charge will be treated as a second offense – with more severe penalties.

How to fight the charges

There are many factors that make BUI offenses challenging for the prosecution to prove. For instance, in a boat with multiple passengers, it can be difficult to prove who was operating the vehicle. In addition, prolonged exposure to the heat and glare from being out on the water can make some people appear to be intoxicated, even if they are not.

In such cases, it can be especially advantageous to have a criminal defense attorney who is also a former prosecutor on your side.  A defense attorney who has insider knowledge into the challenges of prosecuting this type of offense can more effectively work to get your charges reduced or dismissed.

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