Operating a Watercraft Under The Influence

Many people hope to enjoy a sunny day on a lake or waterway by spending time in a boat and having a few drinks with friends and family. Regrettably, those people often find out the hard way that Pennsylvania has a law that is similar to Driving Under the Influence (DUI) called Operating a Watercraft Under the Influence, commonly referred to as BUI.

The Operating a Watercraft Under the Influence law, found at 30 Pa.C.S.A. § 5502, generally prohibits people from operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of a watercraft with drugs or alcohol in their system to an extent that it renders them incapable of safely operating the watercraft or is over the legal limit.

Boating and Drinking Alcohol: Different Vehicle, Similar Laws

Similar to the DUI law, a person is not permitted to have an alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more while operating a watercraft. A person could also be charged with an alcohol concentration below .08 percent if the boater had consumed enoughoperating watercraft under influence drinking on boat alcohol that rendered the person "incapable of safely operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the watercraft." If the boater is an underage drinker, meaning under 21, then the person cannot have an alcohol concentration above a .02 percent.

You Could Be Charged for Using Legal or Illegal Drugs While Boating

A charge of Operating a Watercraft Under the Influence also prohibits a person from operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of a watercraft with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance (marijuana), Schedule II (Oxycontin) or III controlled substance that is not prescribed, or a metabolite of those substances. Since the person is not permitted to have those substances in the body, any amount of the substance in the body supports a prosecution for BUI.

A person can also be charged with BUI if he or she is taking medications that are prescribed or over the counter if the drug or combination of drugs impairs the person's ability to safely operate the movement of the watercraft. In many prosecutions for use of prescription drugs, the district attorney will have an expert review the blood test results to see if the drugs levels were within therapeutic levels, meaning within levels that are normally prescribed for a person with a particular ailment. If the levels are outside of therapeutic ranges, the prosecution will often try to have the expert testify that the person would have been impaired and unable to safely operate a watercraft.

Misdemeanor Offense of Operating Watercraft Under the Influence

While many people enjoy boating as a hobby and leisure activity, a charge of Operating a criminal recordWatercraft Under the Influence is anything but fun or amusing. Even a first offense is a misdemeanor offense, so a conviction would result in a criminal record, and a misdemeanor conviction cannot be expunged from a person's record.

In addition to a criminal record, a person convicted of BUI carries severe mandatory minimum penalties, such as jail time, fines, and a suspension of boating privileges.

Some first-time offenders are eligible to participate in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program to avoid the conviction and reduce the penalties that are imposed. For more information about the ARD program for a charge of Operating a Watercraft Under the Influence, click here.

Contact an Experienced Defense Lawyer In Centre County

Because Operating a Watercraft Under the Influence is a serious offense with severe penalties, a person charged with such an offense should retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

As a State College criminal defense attorney since 2004, Attorney Jason S. Dunkle has represented people charged with BUI offenses in Huntingdon County who got into trouble after spending time on Lake Raystown. For a free consultation, contact JD Law, P.C., at 814-954-1094 or via email.