Taking out the boat or watercraft on a warm day to get some sun and then cool off on the water with friends and family is a pastime enjoyed by many Tennesseans. However, some individuals may lose sight of the fact that drinking and boating is a dangerous combination, and just as illegal as drinking and driving.
Tennessee’s boating under the influence (BUI) laws make it a crime to operate a boat or watercraft under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If charged with a BUI, you may face similar penalties to those you would face if charged with drunk driving. Even while boating, authorities can administer the same type of field sobriety tests they would as if you were suspected of driving under the influence.
What are Tennessee BUI laws?
It is against the law to operate any vessel, whether it is powered or sail, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In addition to alcohol, this includes marijuana, narcotics, stimulants, and any other type of intoxicant. Authorities are permitted to patrol waterways in much the same way they patrol the highways to keep citizens safe from drunk or reckless drivers. If they see signs of a boater who is visibly intoxicated, they have the right to “pull over” a suspicious individual.
Tennessee DUI testing laws include the following.
- Blood alcohol testing. If an accident with serious injury or fatalities occur, BAC test are required from all operators of the vessel(s) involved.
- Implied consent. Much like driving a car, when operating a boat, you give implied consent to chemical tests to determine drug or alcohol content in your blood. If you refuse to consent to this testing, you face a separate charge and possible suspension of your boating privileges for six months.
- Penalties. A conviction for BUI can result in fines and jail time:
- $250 to $2,500 for a first offense
- $500 to $2,500 for a second offense
- $1,000 to $5,000 for a third offense
- Jail up to 11 months and 29 days
- Suspension of operation privileges from one to 10 years
- Presumption of guilt. If an operator’s BAC is .08% or more, the state of Tennessee presumes them to be under the influence and their ability to operate a vessel impaired.
Can I drink on a boat if it’s anchored?
Yes. Unlike Tennessee DUI laws, you can have a drink on your boat if it’s anchored. You can be charged with drunk driving if you are in your car, even if it’s parked and turned off. However, it is not illegal to consume alcohol IF your boat’s anchor is dropped or the boat is moored.
But don’t forget that a sober boater must bring the vessel back to the dock or boat ramp.
At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our drunk driving defense attorneys can help answer any questions you may have regarding boating and drinking charges. We provide informed and experienced representation to clients in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Seymour, Gatlinburg, and the surrounding areas in Tennessee. Call us today at 865-428-8780 or complete our contact form.
Attorney Bryce W. McKenzie received his JD from University of Tennessee College of Law, and has been a clerk for the Court of Criminal Appeals. He is admitted in Tennessee, Federal Court, and the US Court of Appeals. Read more about Bryce W. McKenzie.