Can I Get a DWI While Boating?

boating while drinking

Summer and boating activities go hand in hand. With the warmer weather, lots of us will be out on the water fishing, waterskiing and just enjoying the sunshine. Unfortunately, some people associate these activities with drinking. Whether they don’t care about the implications of operating a boat under the influence or don’t think they can get in trouble for doing so, the implications go far beyond the beam of their boat to the safety of others.

We all know the dangers of drinking and driving. Put simply, if you drive with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher, you can be cited for a DWI. But do the same rules apply when you are operating a boat? The short answer: yes.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, half of all boating fatalities involve alcohol. In all 50 states, it is against the law to operate a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol. This offense is known as Boating Under the Influence or a BUI for short. What is most troubling is that these offenses are on the rise. And, the important point is that every year, many people are killed or injured because someone decided to operate a boat while under the influence. These tragedies are 100% avoidable.

What is a BUI?

Generally, state law defines a BUI as operating a watercraft in a body of water with a blood alcohol of .08% or more. While all states have some form of BUI law, the exact definition varies slightly from state to state.

BUI Laws in Missouri

The state of Missouri breaks down a BUI offense into 2 types. An impairment BUI is when a boater has demonstrated their impairment through the use of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both. A per se BUI is when it is shown that the boater was operating a boat with a blood alcohol of .08% or higher.

BUI Laws in Kansas

Kansas defines a BUI much the same as Missouri, defining a BUI as operating watercraft with a blood-alcohol level of .08% or higher. It also adds that anyone under the age of 21 years old can be guilty of a BUI while operating a boat with a blood alcohol of .02% or higher.


The penalties for this offense can become serious, particularly where it is a repeat offense, or if someone is hurt or killed in connection with the BUI. Depending on the particular circumstances, the offense can be either a misdemeanor or a felony.  Penalties can range from:

  • Fines
  • Loss of boating license
  • Jail time
  • Mandatory enrollment in boating safety or substance abuse classes
  • Impact on driving record and insurance
  • Seizure of boat

Safety Tips for Avoiding a BUI

The U.S. Coast Guard states that in general, alcohol is more dangerous on the water than on land. Alcohol causes a decline in physical and mental skills including impairment of judgment, coordination, reaction time, and depth perception.  Often boat operators are inexperienced, and boats are very different, and often more difficult, to maneuver than a vehicle. Add to that warm weather and sun, which can affect how your body reacts to alcohol. Our most important tip – don’t use alcohol if you are operating a boat.

Here are a few tips to avoid a BUI:

  • If you’re operating a boat, avoid alcohol;
  • Pack plenty of nonalcoholic beverages and snacks;
  • Drive defensively and be aware. There may be others on the water that have been drinking;
  • Follow all safety protocols including the use of life jackets;
  • Wear appropriate, light-colored clothing to stay cool;
  • Make sure you know the rules of the road if you are towing people on skis, innertubes or wakeboards and make sure they are not intoxicated.

Boating is a fun summertime activity when it’s done safely, but even with the best of intentions, accidents can happen. We urge you to keep these safety tips in mind while out on the water. However, if you or a loved one has been injured due to a mishap or the negligence of another party, contact our office for legal guidance at (913) 839-2808.

If you or a loved one receives a BUI while operating a boat under the influence, we encourage you to call another law firm as we focus our efforts on helping victims recover.

MSB is a proud supporter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (“MADD”).