For many people, one of the most enjoyable activities is to get on a boat and head off onto the open water in Texas. There are numerous activities related to boating, including fishing, skiing, or simply enjoying the nice weather with family and friends. Regardless of the activity, it’s common for alcohol to be consumed on boats. It is just a right of passage in Texas when you’re on the water. It is important to realize that boating while intoxicated (BWI) is just as illegal as driving a car while intoxicated.
What is BWI?
Under Texas law, BWI occurs if a person is intoxicated while operating a watercraft. A watercraft is defined as any vessel, an aquaplane, or another device used for transporting or carrying a person on water, other than a device propelled only by the current of the water. So, floating down a river in an inner tube would not be considered a watercraft. The definition of intoxication is not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties or having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.
While BWI is similar to DWI, there are some important differences. Most significantly, there is no requirement that the police have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop a boat. If there are indications that the driver of the boat has been drinking, he or she will be taken to shore and asked to submit to field sobriety tests. It is important to note that the BWI does not use the same litany of standardized tests as a DWI. There is a set specifically used for boating.
BWI is classified as a class B misdemeanor in Texas with a minimum jail term of 72 hours. Additionally, a conviction could result in having to pay a fine of up to $2,000 and/or being sentenced to up to 180 days in jail. The severity of the offense (and punishment) can be enhanced if the arrested person has prior convictions. Importantly, the prior convictions could be for operating or assembling an amusement ride or operating a boat, car, or plane while intoxicated. In other words, they do not need to be BWI for the enhancement to take effect.
Believe it or not a BWI conviction may lead to driver’s license suspension. I know this makes no sense but it is the truth! If the boat has an engine with 50 or more horsepower, the license suspension is automatic and lasts 180 days.
Dangers of Boating While Intoxicated
You may be wondering why it is illegal to drive a boat while intoxicated. After all, many of the dangers related to driving a car while intoxicated are minimized or do not exist at all while boating. But, other dangers do exist, such as:
- increased risk of drowning;
- accidentally driving over people or objects in the water;
- crashing into other boats; or
- erratic driving, which can lead to losing control of the boat or tossing passengers overboard.
There are many places in Harris County that you can enjoy the water and most of these places are heavily patrolled by the Game Wardens are looking to arrest people for BWI. Bottom-line is that you should be careful and appoint a designated driver. Hopefully one with some boating experience.
We Can Help
A BWI conviction is just as serious as a DWI conviction. If charged with BWI in the Houston area, contact attorney Tad Nelson immediately. We have experience defending clients facing all forms of intoxication-related offenses and want to put our expertise to work for you.