Yes, boating under the influence is a criminal offense. Those who are avid boaters are likely aware of this law governing public waters. It is indisputable that boaters (both passengers and drivers) occasionally enjoy alcoholic beverages while on the water. The issue arises when the person operating a watercraft consumes alcohol or consumes an amount that impairs his or her ability to safely operate the vessel. Although BUI is less frequently discussed, it does not lessen the importance of safe boating practices and the severe consequences that can result from boating under the influence.
Mississippi Law Governing BUI
Under the Mississippi Alcohol Safety Act, it is illegal to operate a watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Mississippi defines watercraft as a “motorized vessel with a motor of 25 horsepower or greater used for transportation on public waters.” It further defines “public waters” to mean “all public waters over which the state has jurisdiction.” If a watercraft is underway on public waters it is said to be in operation and the person who has set the watercraft underway is subject to inspection by local police and other water-stationed law enforcement officials. Like the DUI law, BUI law also requires a blood alcohol content for a charge to apply. The law, however, permits law enforcement to assess the behavior of the boater. A person is guilty of boating under the influence if there is “impaired thought and action and loss of normal control of a person's faculties to such an extent as to endanger any person.” The second portion of the provision states that a person is also guilty of a BUI if that “[have] as blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater.” A BAC of .08% or greater is also operative under Mississippi's DUI law.
Generally, BUI is a misdemeanor offense. The penalty imposed depends on the severity of the circumstances and prior convictions. Prior convictions count in the determination of penalties if the prior offense was committed within the past five years. A first-time BUI offense carries a $250 to $1,000 fine and up to 24 hours of jail time. First time offenders must also complete an approved boating safety course. Second offenders must pay $600 to $1000 in fines and are subject to up to 48 hours of jail time or 10 days to one year of community services. A second offense also carries revocation of boating privileges. A complete review of BUI penalties is found here.
An illustration of the dangers of BUI is seen in a recent Mississippi Supreme Court case. In March 2018, the Mississippi Supreme Court reinstated a 2014 judgment of $500,000 to a D'Iberville mother after a civil suit against the Mississippi Department of Wildlife police for allowing a drunk driver to continue operating his vessel after they stopped him for BUI. The drunk boater killed one of her sons and permanently injured another on the Tchoutacabouffa River after a brief encounter with the Wildlife police. Like operating a motor vehicle, it is never safe to boat under the influence. Offenders are subject to severe penalties and victims face injurious and sometimes fatal consequences.
Your DUI Attorney
Attorney James Robert Ferguson is a seasoned DUI attorney with years of experience litigating alcohol and drug DUI cases. Boating Under the Influence is a serious crime. If you have been charged with BUI, you need an experienced attorney. Attorney Ferguson understands that the stakes are high and the importance of putting the charge behind you. Call us now for a consultation.
See related blog posts:
Parked While Under the Influence
Open Container Laws and the Strange Case of Mississippi