Just like it is unlawful to operate an automobile on the road while intoxicated, boating under the influence (BUI) is also a crime that is severely punished. Although DUI laws differ from BUI ones, the consequences are almost similar. When you have been recently arrested or charged with boating while impaired in Bakersfield, you will likely become confused because you are perhaps unaware that operating a boat or vessel while intoxicated is a criminal offense. At the Koenig Law Office, we have explained BUI statutes, possible penalties, and defenses below to help you understand the offense better.

Boating Under the Influence at a Glance

As per California Vehicle Code (VC) 23152, operating a self-propelled automobile while drunk or drugged is unlawful. An automobile or vehicle refers to scooters, tractors, and cars. Nevertheless, because the state puts its waterways under a different set of statutes from the roads, BUI is outlined under the California Harbors and Navigation Code (HNC) 655. Per this statute, it is illegal to operate any of the following vessels under the influence of drugs or alcohol:

  • Motorized boats.
  • Motorized watercraft like aquaplanes.
  • Motorized sailboats.

BUI and DUI laws run parallel in terms of the “under the influence” definition. Under BUI statutes, it is illegal to:

  • Operate a vessel while intoxicated with any amount of drugs or alcohol, the same as VC 23152(a), prohibiting operating a car under the influence.
  • Operate a recreational vessel with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .08%. The BUI BAC limit equals VC 23152(b) at .08% or more.
  • Operate a commercial boat with a blood alcohol weight of no more than .04%, equivalent to a commercial vehicle DUI.
  • Operate a vessel while impaired, causing physical injuries to another, identical to DUI causing injuries.

BUI Types

Different acts under HNC 655 satisfy the BUI definition. These are:

  • Boating Under the Influence of Controlled Substances or Alcohol

The first behavior outlined under HNC 655(b) is boating while drunk or drugged. The law prohibits operating a mechanically propelled boat while impaired by any amount of narcotics, alcohol, or both. The law considers you intoxicated if, after ingesting the controlled substances or alcohol, your motor and mental abilities are impaired, and you cannot exercise the same caution a sober or ordinary individual would exercise in the same situation.

For example, Tom grew up boating as he was brought up on the coastline. Whenever the weather is calm, Tom typically goes sailing with the boat to have fun. He usually takes the vessel out while drinking alcohol. Because of his sailing experience, he can boat like a sober individual without risking his life or the lives of other sailors.

Then there is Tom’s girlfriend, who recently learned how to sail. She takes almost the same amount of alcohol as Tom but only learned to boat a few years ago. When drinking and on the vessel's wheel, she merely avoids running into other boats and people using inner tubes. Because reckless driving differs from that of a sober party, Tom’s girlfriend will be guilty of boating while intoxicated. On the other hand, Tom cannot face charges for HNC 655(b) violations because he behaves like a sober person even when drunk but not above the designated limit.

When proving this element, the prosecutor cites:

  1. The fashion in which you were operating the boat.
  2. Signs of intoxication at the time of boating like watery eyes, unsteady gait, or red eyes.
  3. Your field sobriety test results.
  4. The outcome of your blood or breath chemical test.

When the test results show you had a BAC of.05%, which is still below the designated limit of .08%, the court will not presume you are intoxicated unless other evidence supports the claim. The prosecutor will rely on the signs of intoxication to prove otherwise. And if the BAC was above the designated limit, you will face charges under HNC 665(c).

  • Boating With a Blood Alcohol Content of at Least .08%

Another standard behavior that violates BUI laws is operating a motorized boat with a blood alcohol content of at least .08%. The violation is outlined under HNC 665(c).

During prosecution, the DA only needs to produce the chemical test result showing your BAC was above the designated limit to secure a conviction. Even if you lack evidence to show that you were boating recklessly or in a manner that risks your life and the lives of others, you will still be guilty of BUI if the chemical test results show you had a BAC exceeding the designated limit.

Citing Tom’s example, if he consumes alcohol beyond the .08% limit and still operates the boat without exhibiting any impairment signs, the court will find him guilty using the test results.

An officer must conduct further investigations, including a chemical blood or breath test, when they believe someone is intoxicated. Even if you do not show intoxication signs like slurred speech and your boating skills are unmatched, you will face charges and a possible conviction for BUI when the test results indicate you had an illegal BAC while boating.

  • Commercial Boating With at Least .04% BAC

As per HNC 655(d), it is unlawful to operate a commercial motorized boat with a blood alcohol content of no less than .04%. You are likely to face charges for violating this subsection if you operate the following vessels:

  1. Fishing boats.
  2. Passenger's vessels.
  3. Tour vessels.
  4. Sport fishing boats.

Looking at the designated BAC limit provided under this subsection, you realize that the regulations are stricter than for recreational boaters. However, commercial BUI is the same as commercial DUI.

BUI With Injury

HNC 655(f) prohibits boaters from operating a vessel or manipulating a water ski while drunk or drugged and engaging in an illegal act, causing another person serious injuries. HNC 655(f) is also known as aggravated BUI. You face these charges when your BUI causes any bodily harm, however small. The prosecutor does not necessarily need to prove that the victim sustained a great physical injury to secure a conviction.

Nevertheless, they must show that you participated in unlawful conduct that amounts to neglect of duty while boating and that the action or inaction directly caused someone to suffer injuries. Even if the prosecutor can prove boating while impaired but cannot show that your negligence or unlawful conduct directly caused harm to the victim, you will not be guilty under this subsection.

For example, you live near a lake, and your friends from college are visiting. One afternoon, you decide to hang around the beach, drinking beers. After a few drinks, you offer your friends a boat ride on your father’s motorboat.

Even though you are a little bit drunk, you manage to take the motorboat off the dock, but one of your friends, John, who is not used to the berth and a little bit drunk from the beers, slides and falls, injuring his back.

Nevertheless, John decides he is not severely injured and insists on joining the ride. While in the lake, you and your friends drink additional beers, making you drunk. You decide to ride faster, exceeding the designated speed on the lake, and sadly, as you attempt to turn, the motorboat turns, and your other friend, James, suffers an ankle sprain.

Even if you are apprehended and charged with an HNC 655(f) violation, you will not be guilty of John’s injuries because your negligent boating conduct did not cause them. The injuries happened before you began boating.

However, in James’ case, you will face aggravated BUI and a possible conviction because your unlawful conduct or negligence while boating caused his ankle sprain. In addition to the criminal charges, James can file a civil suit against you to claim compensation for damages caused by your BUI.

BUI Penalties

The punishment for operating a boat while impaired or intoxicated hinges on the behavior you exhibited during the crime and the number of BUI crimes committed in the past.

First Time Offender

First-time BUI offenses are typically filed as misdemeanors unless your conduct caused someone else to sustain injuries. A misdemeanor conviction for the crime attracts the following penalties:

  1. Misdemeanor probation with a requirement to take part in a DUI school.
  2. No more than half a year in jail.
  3. Court-imposed monetary fines of no more than $1,000.

Repeat Offender

Unless you have a previous conviction for aggravated BUI, if you have been found guilty of a misdemeanor BUI and have a prior conviction for HNC 655 violation, VC 23152 violation, DUI causing injury, vehicular manslaughter, or BUI manslaughter within the last seven years, you will be sentenced to twelve months in jail.

BUI With Injury

Otherwise called aggravated BUI,  BUI causing injuries is charged as a wobbler under HNC 655(f). It means the DA can bring misdemeanor or felony counts against you based on the circumstances surrounding the allegations and your criminal past.

When filed as a misdemeanor, an HNC 655(f) violation results in the following penalties upon conviction:

  1. Ninety days to twelve months of jail incarceration.
  2. $250 to $5,000 in monetary court fines.

Aggravated BUI is charged as a felony, and if the prosecutor secures a guilty verdict, the court will impose a 16, 24, or 36-month jail sentence or formal probation.

It would help to know that if the court sentences you to a felony or informal probation in place of the jail sentence for aggravated DUI and you lack an aggravated BUI record in the lookup duration of seven years, you must serve a mandatory five-day sentence in jail before being released to serve probation. Additionally, the court will impose a monetary fine of $250 as part of the probation requirements.

Also, if in the lookback period of seven years, you have been sentenced for aggravated BUI, DUI, or gross vehicular manslaughter, a subsequent conviction for BUI with injuries will result in formal probation with a requirement to serve a mandatory ninety days in custody and a court fine of $250.

Refusal to Submit a Sample for Chemical Testing

When a law enforcement officer reasonably believes you are boating while intoxicated, they can ask you to submit a breath, blood, or urine sample for chemical testing. You will face an increased sentence within the BUI law provisions when you fail to present the samples and are later charged and convicted for BUI law violations.

It would help to know that a peace or law enforcement officer can request that you submit a sample for chemical testing only if you operate a motorized or mechanically-propelled vessel. The vessels include motor-propelled sailboats but exclude non-motorized vessels like kayaks, canoes, and dinghies.

Open Container Guidelines on Watercrafts

California prohibits motorists from driving with an open alcohol or marijuana container in the car. If you pulled over under these circumstances, the stopping officer would have reasonable suspicion that you were operating the vehicle while intoxicated by marijuana or alcohol. Nevertheless, when it comes to mechanically propelled vessels or watercraft, it is legal to have an open alcohol or cannabis container.

The operator and passengers are allowed to drink. Nevertheless, the operator should not exceed the designated BAC limit of.08%. This should not mean operators are free to drink because an arrest is highly probable if a peace officer observes signs of intoxication or boating patterns that indicate one is under the influence. However, if an operator is an experienced drinker, does not exceed the legal BAC limit, and operates the boat like a sober person, an HNC 655 violation arrest or charges are unlikely.

Allowing open containers in a boat is risky because it denies officers probable cause, elevating the risk of overindulgence or dehydration, primarily by boaters, causing impairment or intoxication due to the increased effects of alcohol in the blood system. This increases the risk of boating accidents.

BUI Conviction and Its Effects on Your Driving Privileges

In California, BUI is treated the same way as DUI, meaning a conviction will negatively affect your driver’s license. Based on your criminal history, the DMV can suspend or revoke your license.

As a boater or operator, a BUI sentence resulting in driver’s license revocation or suspension means avoiding mistakes or boating with a BAC above the designated limit. Exercise as much good judgment on the waterways as you do on roadways because your boating actions adversely affect your driver’s license.

Contesting BUI Charges

If you believe your BUI charges are false, you should know that several defense strategies are available to fight the allegations. However, you will need the Koenig Law Office to craft the defenses for a positive outcome effectively. The assertions you can effectively use are:

  • Not Intoxicated or Impaired

The manner in which your defense attorney argues this defense hinges on whether the charge is filed under HNC 655(b) or (c). If the counts are under subsection c, boating under the influence, you must show the court that the drugs or alcohol did not impair your capacity to operate the vessel. However, when the charges are for boating with an illegal alcohol level, you will poke holes in the procedures for administering the chemical tests and the accuracy of the results.

For example, you have been charged with an HNC 655(b) violation for speeding, showing off, not turning lights on, or taking risks. Under the circumstances, your attorney can argue that even sober individuals engage in the same conduct. Also, they can say that you made an innocent mistake by being distracted or miscalculating.

Alternatively, if the case is based on the apprehending officer’s testimony that you exhibited intoxication signs like red or watery eyes, the attorney can assert that the symptoms were caused by factors like fatigue, sun, dehydration, or waves that caused you to stagger on the boat.

If the charges are for HNC 655(c) violations, you can argue that the results were inaccurate for these reasons:

  1. The breathalyzer device was not well standardized or serviced as per the law.
  2. You had consumed food or taken medication that caused the false positive.
  3. You were vomiting before the test.
  4. The officer conducting the tests was not adequately trained.
  5. The blood or urine sample was not correctly stored, explaining the false positive.
  • The Stop Was Illegal, or the Officer Lacked Probable Cause

The 4th Amendment shields you from unlawful stops by officers without probable cause. For an apprehension to be deemed legal, the stopping police officer must have probable cause or a valid reason for stopping the motorized boat or watercraft. A profound attorney can demonstrate to the court that the officer had no good reason for the stop because you were not doing anything suspicious.

The legal expert can assert that the officer stereotyped you because of the kind of vessel you were riding or racially profiled you. If the probable cause for the stop was an open alcohol or cannabis container, the attorney will argue it is legal to have one in the boat, and the charges will be dropped. Devoid of probable cause, the BUI charges will be deemed invalid.

Find an Experienced BUI Attorney Near Me

BUI and DUI are slightly different, but a conviction for boating while intoxicated can have life-altering consequences. If you have been apprehended or charged with BUI in Bakersfield and need legal representation, Koenig Law Office can help. Contact us today at 661-793-7222 for a zero-obligation case review.