Boating Under the Influence (BUI) - California Harbors and Navigation Code 655

Posted by Raoul Severo | Oct 18, 2020 | 0 Comments

On the ground, driving with a clear head is a must. It is so that the driver and other people using the road will be safe and secure. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious offense that may possibly lead to the revocation or suspension of one's driving privileges.

Now, what about if the driver is not on the ground, but navigating the waves instead? Just because there is a difference in landscape, does not mean that the same rules cannot be applied. At the end of the day, the importance of safety does not change depending on the context -- it will always be crucial. 

With that said, California implemented the Harbors and Navigation Code 655, which aims to uphold the same standards of safe driving among boat operators as those drivers on land. Anyone who drives a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be prosecuted. The term ‘vessel' under this statute includes:

  • Watercrafts;
  • Motorboats;
  • Sail boats;
  • Jet skis;
  • Aquaplane;
  • Inflatable boats;
  • Passenger ships;
  • Industrial boats; and
  • Container ships.

This law, however, does not prohibit drinking in general when cruising. Passengers on your boat may still drink how often they want as long as they do not put their hands behind the wheels of the ship. Moreover, even boat operators/captains may take a sip as long as the amount of alcohol does not exceed the legal level. However, do not be too confident. The court may still push some legal actions against you even if your alcohol level does not meet the criterion of DUI. 

Speaking of, let us discuss the requirements that must be met for the court to convict a person guilty of boating under the influence. These requirements include:

  • Your manner of driving the boat. Unusual movements such as swaying your boat in a zigzag path will often grab the attention of Harbor Patrol officers. 
  • Your physical appearance. Police will judge you by your looks in the case of both a BUI and a DUI because it is often manifested through our physical appearance. Red and watery eyes, moving slowly or in a robotic fashion, and lack of physical coordination are some physical traits that a drunk person has.
  • Your behavior. A drunk person is often incapable of doing the simplest things, such as talking properly or understanding instructions. Thus, law enforcement officials conduct a field sobriety test to assess whether a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • The results of a chemical breath or blood test. The most objective method of determining whether a person is BUI is subjecting them to a breathalyzer or blood test. A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% will be presumed as a case of boating under the influence. However, the same does not apply to non-recreational boat operators. Drivers of passenger ferries, fishing boats, and tour boats may not have a BAC of more than 0.04%. This is true even if you will argue that your ability to operate a boat has not been affected.

Legal Consequences for Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

Operating a water vessel despite knowing full well that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol means that you are deliberately putting lives at risk. It does not matter how skilled of a sailor you are, you still violated the law. 

For boat operators who violated for the first time, it is usually a misdemeanor case. The penalties are as follows:

  • Misdemeanor probation with mandatory participation in California DUI school;
  • Not more than 6 months in county jail; and/or
  • A maximum fine of $1,000.

If you re-offend Harbors and Navigation Code 655 within the span of 7 years, your penalties will increase for each repeated offense. The penalties will be as follows:

  • Misdemeanor probation with a condition to participating in substance abuse treatment for at least 18 months or 30 months;
  • Up to 1 year in county jail; and/or
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

Meanwhile, if you happen to cause an injury while boating under the influence, you may be convicted of either misdemeanor or felony. 

  • For a misdemeanor, penalties include up to 1 year in county jail and a fine of at least $250 up to $5,000
  • For a felony, penalties include a jail sentence of either 16 months, 2, or 3 years. 

Seek Legal Consultation 

If you are currently facing a lawsuit for allegedly boating under the influence, it is essential that you find a professional criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The legal consequences that you might face will be heavy, so you need an expert on the law to defend your case.

Send us a message! We'll get back to you ASAP

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