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What is a BUI in Texas: The Basics of Boating While Intoxicated

Ben Michael

BUI stands for Boating Under the Influence. In Texas, it is illegal for minors to operate a watercraft while having any amount of detectable alcohol in their system. BUI is not the same as Boating While Intoxicated (BWI). If you are a minor and you drink alcohol and then operate a boat, you can get charged with both BUI and BWI.

In this article, we’ll cover Texas BUI and BWI laws, including the consequences and punishments associated with each conviction.

What is a BUI (BWI)? 

Here’s what the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code says about BUI:

“A minor commits an offense if the minor operates a motor vehicle in a public place, or a watercraft, while having any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor’s system.”

Like DUI (Driving Under the Influence), BUI is reserved for minors in Texas. If you are 21 or over, you’d have to be intoxicated (drunk) to get charged and convicted of BWI.

However—under most circumstances—it is illegal for minors to drink alcohol in Texas. The state has a zero-tolerance policy for minors, which means that if you are a minor, you can be convicted if it can be evidenced that you had any measurable amount of alcohol in your system while operating a watercraft or a vehicle (in a public place)—even if you aren’t drunk.

Boating While Intoxicated in the Texas Penal Code

If you operate a boat while drunk, you can get charged with Boating While Intoxicated. Here’s how the Texas Penal Code cites the offense:

“A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a watercraft.”

The same chapter of the Penal Code defines “intoxicated” as:

(A) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or

(B) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

Note that according to law, if your ability to operate a boat safely is impaired due to taking drugs, including legal prescription drugs, you can still be charged with BWI.

Typically, Boating While Intoxicated is a Class B misdemeanor, but it can be enhanced if there are aggravating factors present, for example

  • You register a BAC of 0.15 or more
  • You had a child passenger (under 15) on board at the time of the offense
  • You have a previous conviction for a related intoxication offense, including BWI, Driving While Intoxicated, and Public Intoxication

If someone dies or suffers serious bodily injury as a result of your actions, you can be charged with Intoxication Manslaughter or Intoxication Assault, respectively, both of which carry significantly harsher punishments.

The Hazards Associated with BUI

When the sun’s shining, and the water is clear, it can be tempting to pack a few drinks onto your boat and have a good time with your friends. Unfortunately, boating under the influence is just as deadly as drunk driving.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division, alcohol is involved in about one-third of all recreational boating fatalities. Their Recreational Boating Statistics for 2022 cites alcohol use as the primary contributing factor of deaths for the year.

So, what makes boating under the influence so dangerous?

  • A combination of sunshine, motion from the water, engine noise, and wind can enhance or accelerate the effect of alcohol on your body, causing you to become impaired much sooner than if you were drinking on land.
  • A delayed reaction can affect your ability to be aware of potential hazards, including a change in the tide, currents, objects or people in the water, weather changes, and other boaters.
  • Unlike driving, there aren’t road lines, signs, or traffic lights on water, which makes accidents more likely on busy days. Combined with the sound of the engine, vibrations, wind and spray, a delay in your reaction or decision-making capabilities can lead to an accident.
  • Aside from making you sluggish, drinking disturbs your balance, making it difficult to tell the difference between up and down—a potentially deadly position to be in if you fall into the water.
  • Alcohol can also distort your perception of your body temperature. This sometimes leads to swimmers staying in cold water longer than they should, resulting in hypothermia.

Blood Alcohol Limit (BAC) for Boating While Drunk

The Blood Alcohol Content limit for BWI is 0.08%. However, there is no limit for BUI. For Boating Under the Influence, if law enforcement officers register ANY detectable alcohol in your system (and you are a minor), you can be arrested and charged.

A BAC of 0.15% or higher results in enhanced offenses and penalties.

Blood Test Necessity for BUI

For police to charge you with Boating Under the Influence, they must prove that you have some detectable alcohol in your system. Texas’ Implied Consent laws mean that anyone operating a boat on Texas waterways automatically consents to BAC testing.

You can refuse a blood test or Breathalyzer, but the consequences may include getting arrested, and the police can get a warrant to force a test anyway. Additionally, a refusal to submit a sample will result in an Administrative License Revocation—in short, your driver’s license will be suspended until you attend an ALR hearing, a civil procedure that is unrelated to criminal proceedings for BWI.

If you are over the age of 21, the officers will need to determine if they have probable cause for arresting you. Even if they are sure you’ve been drinking, you can only be convicted if the court can prove you are drunk. For this, police officers may require you to submit to a series of tests so that they can determine if you are impaired.

While drivers may face field sobriety tests, the same is difficult to conduct on a boat where the effect of “sea legs” can disorient most people. Police officers can either take you ashore and wait for 15 minutes before conducting road-side field sobriety tests or instead conduct a seated battery of standardized field sobriety tests, including:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus
  • Finger-to-nose exercise
  • Palm pat exercise
  • Four hand coordination exercises

Further, you may be required to give a Breathalyzer or blood sample.

Texas BWI Consequences

The consequences of a BWI conviction are identical to those of DWI. If you have previous convictions for intoxication-related offenses, you can face enhanced charges and penalties, rising in severity with each subsequent offense.

Punishment for BWI usually includes jail time, a fine, and a driver’s license suspension. To get your license back, you may be required to have an ignition interlock device installed into your vehicle. 

First Offense

A first BWI offense is a Class B misdemeanor. Penalties include:

  • A fine of up to $2,000
  • Between 3 and 180 days in jail

Second Offense

A second BWI offense is a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties include:

  • A fine of up to $4,000
  • Between 30 days and one year in jail

Third Offense

A third BWI offense is a third-degree felony. Penalties include:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Between 2 to 10 years imprisonment

Can Your Boat License Be Revoked for Operating Under the Influence?

Your boating license may be suspended if you are found operating a watercraft under the influence. In addition to having your license revoked, you may be ordered to take a mandatory boater education course.

How Does a BUI Conviction Influence Your Driving Privileges?

Any alcohol-related offenses for minors will result in driver’s license suspension for between 60 days and two years, depending on the number of previous (alcohol-related) offenses on your record.

BWI convictions are treated the same way as other intoxication offenses, including DWIs. Upon conviction, your driver’s license can be suspended for 30 days to two years, depending on the severity of the violation.

5 Boating Safety Tips

Follow these tips to keep yourself and your passengers safe:

1.    The best way to keep yourself safe on the water is to avoid drinking and boating. Even if you, as the boat operator, aren’t drinking, intoxication can still lead your passengers to lose their balance and fall in the water or take unnecessary risks.

2.    Make sure you and your passengers are all wearing approved life jackets at all times while you are on the water.

3.    Watch out for other boat operators who may be drunk. Busy summer holiday periods such as the Fourth of July will attract more people to lakes, and even if you stay sober, they might not. More boating accidents can happen during these times, so be a defensive boater.

4.    Put down your cell phone while operating the boat! Taking photos, checking messages, and scrolling through social media can distract you from everything else that’s happening around you, including objects or people who may be half submerged in the water in front of you.

5.    Check the weather forecast before you go out, and make sure you are well prepared. Finally, don’t forget to follow local rules and laws of the waterways and resist the temptation to drive at excessive speeds.

A skilled Texas criminal defense attorney will study your case, including the arresting officer’s notes and all available evidence, to develop an effective defense strategy. This could include challenging the accuracy of the seated field sobriety tests or even the Breathalyzer results—if there is any doubt that the test was carried out correctly.

If you are facing BWI or BUI charges, the best thing you can do is to find a lawyer with a track record of success in intoxication-related cases. Here at Michael & Associates, we have extensive experience dealing with DWIs. Book your free case review today.

Ben Michael

Ben has vast experience in defending criminal cases ranging from DWIs to assault, drug possession, and many more. He has countless criminal charges dismissed and pled down. Among many other awards, one of the Top 10 Criminal Defense Attorneys in Texas and winner of Top 40 under 40.

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