Can I Get Breathalyzed On My Boat?


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Most of us are familiar with the concept of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI), but how do these translate to boating? Is it illegal to boat while drunk? If one is cited for boating under the influence, will that affect their driving license? Can you be given a breathalyzer on your boat?

First, there are both state and federal laws pertaining to boating and alcohol use. Every jurisdiction has laws against mixing the two, but the consequences for doing so and how closely these laws are enforced vary from state-to-state. States that are most prone to enforce these laws and offer the stiffest penalties are, perhaps not surprisingly, the jurisdictions most known for their boating. However, generally speaking, just as with driving a car, it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol and doing so could result in an arrest.

However, boating is a different activity than driving. So, if you are stopped by authorities for boating under the influence, does this mean that you will lose your driver's license? Generally speaking, the answer is no. While a DUI or DWI often results in an automatic suspension of driving privileges, boating is usually regulated in a different manner and typically does not require a license. As a result, strictly from a logistical standpoint there is no simple mechanism to trade this information between enforcement agencies in most jurisdictions. Thus, the authority regulating driver's licenses usually does not even know about the boating violations.

So, if it is possible to be arrested or cited for boating under the influence, how do the authorities know you were intoxicated? Can they give you a breathalyzer on your boat? What happens if you refuse the test?

Yes, authorities may use a breathalyzer to determine if the operator of a boat is intoxicated. Generally, one can refuse to blow, but doing so may result in their case being turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard for review. Federal laws allow for the imposition of a substantial fine for refusing to comply with the request for a breathalyzer test, often between $1,000 and $5,000. If the accused person fails to pay this fine in a timely manner, the Coast Guard may actually seize the vessel upon which the drunken boating took place.

If you have been accused of boating under the influence, this is a very serious situation and should not be dismissed simply because you are unlikely to lose your license. You should contact an attorney with criminal experience and, potentially, one with knowledge of maritime laws. For a list of attorneys in your jurisdiction, visit our Law Firms page by clicking on the appropriate tab on the menu bar, above.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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