Is It Legal to Drink While Driving a Boat?

Getting out on the water in a boat is a great way to spend long, lazy summer days. However, this can be dangerous if the operator is under the influence. The same rules that apply while operating a motor vehicle also apply while boating. However, many people are unaware of these laws. 

If you are caught drinking while operating a boat, you face the same penalties you would face operating a motor vehicle, including probable jail time and the loss of your driver’s license. This is the case in all 50 states. Let’s look at the dangers of boating while under the influence.

It is illegal to drink and operate a boat

French yacht racers Thomas Coville and Jean-Luc Nelias celebrating with alcoholic drinks after winning a race in Salvador, Brazil
French yacht racers celebrating with drinks | LUCIO TAVORA/AFP via Getty Images

According to the US Coast Guard, alcohol is involved in nearly half of all boating deaths. Boat Ed reports that the legal limit for all 50 states ranges from 0.05% to 0.08% blood alcohol content (BAC) if you are caught drinking and operating a boat.

What are the consequences if you are caught drinking while operating a boat?

The consequences for operating a boat under the influence differ slightly from state to state, but all carry hefty fines and possible jail time. For example, in Alabama, a first offense could be a fine of up to $2,100 and/or a sentence of up to one year in jail in addition to the suspension of the operator’s certification for 90 days. Subsequent offenses carry stiffer fines and longer jail time.

The dangers of operating a boat while under the influence are the same as with an automobile, but a few extra considerations make it even more dangerous. Anyone who has ever owned a boat knows that balance is crucial. When you are under the influence, balance is nearly impossible. Drowning is responsible for at least one in four boating fatalities. 

Alcohol consumption rules differ for passengers

Open container laws do not operate the same in boats compared to motor vehicles. It is perfectly fine for passengers to drink while on the boat as long as doing so doesn’t hinder the safe operation of the car. However, balance issues on smaller boats may present a problem. In that case, drinking would be discouraged because of the dangers of capsizing. 

According to the Virginia DWR, passengers who drink are at an even greater risk of drowning. They report that “A study completed in 2001 shows that boating passengers are more likely to die in a boating accident than the operator. Many passengers believe they can drink as much as they want as long as the operator stays sober. In reality, passengers are at risk regardless of whether the operator is consuming alcohol or not. This is not only related to crashes, but to falls overboard and capsizing as well.”

Boats are a great way to enjoy the outdoors in nice weather. However, the same precautions taken while operating a vehicle on the roads must be taken when working a boat. In many ways, boats can be even more dangerous because many people aren’t aware of the dangers of operating a boat while under the influence. To prevent deadly consequences, education and a little common sense can undoubtedly go a long way in minimizing the dangers of boating.

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