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How Is Boating Under the Influence Different From DUI?

two boats in the ocean with wake behind them

Many people go out on the water to relax and have fun with friends or family. Oftentimes, these days or gatherings on boats involve alcohol. It’s important to know that there are laws for drinking while boating, just like there are for drinking and driving. Let’s review some key information about BUI in Virginia and what makes these cases unique and different from DUI.

BUI Laws in Virginia Beach

It is illegal for individuals to operate a boat with a BAC over 0.08% or under the influence of any amount of alcohol that impedes their ‘manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, or general appearance or behavior.” These guidelines are kept vague, allowing many people to be charged with BUI regardless of their BAC. While many people believe that as long as they are under the legal limit, they are safe from charges – that is not necessarily the case.

A first offense BUI charge is typically a misdemeanor, just like a first offense DUI would be.
It is punishable by:

  • Up to 12 months in jail
  • Up to $2,500 in fines

While a BUI won’t affect the boater’s driver’s license, they may face a year-long boater privilege suspension.

The penalties or charges for boating under the influence will also be enhanced if the boater caused an accident that resulted in injuries or fatalities.

Differences Between BUI and DUI

The laws and penalties for BUI and DUI are quite similar. However, BUI cases are still different based on a number of factors.

Who Was Operating the Boat?

In DUI cases, it’s usually quite clear who the driver is. Unless the driver and passenger attempt to switch seats before the officer approaches the vehicle, there is little opportunity for confusion about who was operating the car. Boats, however, are a different entity. Many boaters are up and moving about the boat, and the person driving the boat may switch off numerous times. This may make things more complex, as it can lead to confusion about who the true driver was and if they were impaired.

Valid Reasons for a Stop

Just like DUI stops, the water police must have a valid reason to stop a boater. Drivers may be stopped for running through red lights, ignoring street signs, or weaving between lanes. However, these are not criteria that are applicable for boaters. So, what are valid reasons to stop a boater for suspected BUI?

Valid cause for a boating stop would be:

  • Issues with the boat’s registration
  • An accident occurs
  • The driver operates the boat in a way that gives the officer reasonable suspicion that they are under the influence or otherwise breaking the law

What Types of Sobriety Tests Can Boaters Take?

During a DUI stop, the driver will often be asked to take a breath test or field sobriety tests. However, these tests are not as easy to conduct on boats.

Typically, a BUI stop will involve a breathalyzer test. However, field sobriety tests become significantly more difficult to pass if standing on a moving boat. For this reason, the boater will not be asked to take field sobriety tests that involve walking or balance. Still, the officer may request that the boater take a horizontal gaze nystagmus test while seated. This type of test focuses on the boater’s eye movements to evaluate sobriety. While it is considered the most reliable of the three standardized field sobriety tests, there are still a number of faults with this type of examination.

Field sobriety tests are optional both on land and at sea. Do not take these tests.

BUI Charge Defense in Virginia Beach

If your day on the water ended with a BUI arrest, contact Tillotson & Martin, LLC. We have the unique knowledge needed to handle BUI cases. Get started on your defense today; call us at (757) 568-7978.