What Is Boating Under the Influence? With the winter season beginning to wane, it is the time of year that we begin to dream about sunshine, warm weather, and getting out on the ocean. Summertime has always been the time of year when we plan all our outdoor activities, including relaxation and play. If you have a boat (or plan on getting one), then imagining yourself out on the lake at Allen Pond Park or taking the boat out in Whitehall Bay maybe sipping on a cold beer or other alcoholic beverage is tempting. However, it is important to know the laws when it comes to boating and alcohol. If you are the one driving the boat, no matter how wide the seas are and how alone and far from any other boats you might think you are, operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in Maryland.

What does the law say about boating while drunk?

Just like driving under the influence (DUI), operating a boat under the influence (BUI) is also illegal. Maryland code § 8-738 states:

a person may not operate or attempt to operate a vessel while the person:

  1. Is under the influence of alcohol;
  2. Is impaired by alcohol;
  3. Is so far impaired by any drug, combination of drugs, or combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person cannot operate a vessel safely; or
  4. Is impaired by any controlled dangerous substance, as defined in § 5–101 of the Criminal Law Article, unless the person is entitled to use the controlled dangerous substance under the laws of the State.

Note that the law covers ALL controlled substances, which can include prescription medications along with illegal drugs and alcohol.

What are the dangers of boating under the influence?

While it is important to understand that operating a boat while drinking or under the influence of drugs is illegal, we should also understand the dangers of the crime. Alcohol and other substances affect your judgment, reflexes, vision, balance, and coordination. Per USCG Boating, “U.S. Coast Guard data shows that in boating deaths involving alcohol use, over half the victims capsized their boats and/or fell overboard.”

In fact, alcohol poses more of a danger on sea than on land, as the exposure to the sun, the elevation, the wind, and the ocean spray all accelerate the alcohol’s effects, and can affect the impairment of the operator even further. Alcohol affects the inner ear, and so does the choppy waves of being on the sea in a boat. If you drink and boat at the same time, you are at great risk for falling and injuring yourself, or even falling off the boat altogether. If you are not an experienced boater, then you are further at risk for injury or accident while out on the sea. USCG Boating reports that “a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration,” based on the reasons we discussed above.

What are the penalties for BUI in Maryland?

The penalties for BUI can vary state to state. In Maryland, the penalties are:

  • For a first offense, a fine of up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison
  • For a second offense, a fine of up to $2,000 and/or two years in prison
  • For a third or subsequent offense, a fine up to $3,000 and/or 3 years in prison

These are the legal repercussions, but you should also think of the repercussions that having a BUI on your criminal record could have on your life. If you are trying to get into a college, they may choose someone without a criminal record over you. The same goes for jobs. If you are trying to get a job, your employer will no doubt see your criminal record, and think twice about hiring you. BUI convictions – especially felony convicitons – can cost you everything from your right to carry a firearm to your access to government assistance, as well as any professional licenses or security clearances you hold.

Should I hire an attorney for a BUI charge?

An experienced BUI attorney understands how the system works. At Carey Law Office, we work to get your charges dropped whenever possible. We will challenge the legitimacy of the stop, which may allow us to get all evidence – including the results of the tests, provided you took them – suppressed.

If an outright dismissal is not feasible, and you are a first-time offender, you could be eligible for a deferred adjudication program (also known as a “probation before judgment,” or PBJ). If you qualify, your case either is suspended while you complete the terms of the program, upon which your case is dismissed, OR you can plead guilty and complete the program, which allows you to have the charges dismissed or expunged later. In either scenario, you end up without a criminal record.

Finally, if your charges cannot be dismissed or if you are not eligible for deferred adjudication, we can discuss your options regarding fighting the BUI in court or negotiating your charges down.

A day out on the waves and in the sun sounds like a blast, and there is no reason it shouldn’t be so long as you are enjoying drinking responsibly and boating responsibly. Boating under the influence is a serious charge, and you can suffer serious penalties. If you have been charged with BUI, Carey Law Office can help. Schedule a consultation with an experienced BUI defense lawyer in Bowie, Crofton, and Owings. We also are available to those in Calvert County and those in the surrounding areas. Call us at 301-464-2500 or use our contact form to set up a consultation now.