Boating While Intoxicated in Virginia

Boats at a marina in VirginiaAlmost everyone is aware that you can be charged with a DUI if you operate a vehicle while intoxicated.  However, what most people do not realize, is that you can also be charged with boating while intoxicated (BWI) on those sunny afternoons when you drive your boat out of the marine and throw back a few beers.

What is the Law?

Virginia Code Section 29.1-738 defines the law for boating while intoxicated.  The code specifically states:

A. No person shall operate any motorboat or vessel, or manipulate any skis, surfboard, or similar device, or engage in any spearfishing while skin diving or scuba diving in a reckless manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.

B. No person shall operate any watercraft, as defined in § 29.1-733.2, or motorboat which is underway (i) while such person has a blood alcohol concentration at or greater than the blood alcohol concentration at which it is unlawful to drive or operate a motor vehicle as provided in § 18.2-266 as indicated by a chemical test administered in accordance with § 29.1-738.2, (ii) while such person is under the influence of alcohol, (iii) while such person is under the influence of any narcotic drug or any other self-administered intoxicant or drug of whatsoever nature, or any combination of such drugs, to a degree which impairs his ability to operate the watercraft or motorboat safely, (iv) while such person is under the combined influence of alcohol and any drug or drugs to a degree which impairs his ability to operate the watercraft or motorboat safely, or (v) while such person has a blood concentration of any of the following substances at a level that is equal to or greater than (a) 0.02 milligrams of cocaine per liter of blood, (b) 0.1 milligrams of methamphetamine per liter of blood, (c) 0.01 milligrams of phencyclidine per liter of blood, or (d) 0.1 milligrams of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine per liter of blood.

C. For purposes of this article, the word "operate" includes being in actual physical control of a watercraft or motorboat and "underway" means that a vessel is not at anchor, or made fast to the shore, or aground.

Any person who violates any provision of this section is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

How Can I be Charged with Boating While Intoxicated?

The statute reads very similar to Virginia Code Section 18.2-266, Virginia’s DUI statute.  It also is similar to Virginia Code Section 46.2-862, Virginia’s reckless driving statute.  Therefore, you can be charged under Virginia Code Section 29.1-738 if you operate a boat in a reckless manner that will endanger the life, limb, or property of another person, or if you are intoxicated.  Intoxication is defined as a blood alcohol level of over .08, or through any other facts or circumstances that would lead the police officer to believe you are under the influence (smell of alcohol, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, admitting to excessive drinking etc.).  You can also be charged with boating while intoxicated if you are under the influence of drugs.

What is the Punishment for Boating While Intoxicated?

Boating while intoxicated is a class 1 misdemeanor.  This means it is punishable up to 12 months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,500.  However, there will be additional penalties, similar to those of DUI conviction.  If convicted, your boating license may be suspended and you may also be required to complete an alcohol substances abuse program.

It is important that you speak with a DUI attorney if you are charged with boating while intoxicated, as the penalties can be severe and have lasting effects.  At Greenspun Shapiro, we can review the facts and circumstances of your case to get the best possible result in order to mitigate any damage to your future. 

Anastasia T. Kranias
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