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Thursday, June 02, 2011

BUI – Boating Under the Influence

It can carry the same penalties as a DUI

With the Memorial Day weekend behind us, news reports have carried quite a few stories on Boating Under the Influence (BUI). A number of the news stories cited reports from state wildlife officers with the number of boaters arrested for BUI over the holiday weekend. Several articles contained stories about boaters who were jailed for injuring or killing passengers on their boat while operating under the influence.

For many, a day on the water with a fast boat and a cooler full of drinks go hand in hand --- but handling a boat while under the influence can have tragic results. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 18 people have been killed on Florida's waterways already this year. There is a long summer ahead and, unfortunately, that number is going to rise.

The US Coast Guard keeps figures on boating incidents nationwide and their latest report listed the boating accident, injury, and fatality figures for 2009. According to their report, operator inattention was the reason for most boating incidents but alcohol was responsible for the most fatalities. Of the top five contributing factors to boating incidents, alcohol use was responsible for 48 percent of the total fatalities.

Several states, including New York, Virginia, and Oklahoma have recently passed laws that toughen the penalties for BUI and bring their BUI laws in line with their Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws. Most states have set the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) for BUI at .08, the same level as that for a DUI. For underage boaters who drink, the same zero tolerance laws exist; meaning that a minor who operates a boat can be charged with BUI with a BAC level of as little as .01.

Many state laws require that a boater convicted of BUI lose his or her boating license and they can be suspended from operating a boat for a set period of time. Some states require that a boater convicted of BUI attend a boating safety course before being allowed to operate a boat again.

Other states go even further in treating a BUI the same as a DUI and suspend the boater's driving license as well as their boating privileges. A previous BUI conviction can count the same as a DUI making a later charge of DUI in an automobile a second offense. Some states also have laws requiring that a boater submit to breathalyzer and field sobriety tests; if they refuse, they face suspension of their driver's license. For more information on your state’s BUI laws, visit the Coast Guard website at:

Many of the same rules one would use for driving should be applied to boating as well. Never operate a boat when you've been drinking. Use a designated operator if alcohol is going to be a part of your day on the water.

Most of the fatalities from boating incidents are due to drowning when the occupant falls or is thrown overboard. Make sure that you and all your passengers wear a life preserver at all times, even on the dock. There are new "fanny pack" life preservers available now that aren't as bulky as the typical life preserver. Also make sure you have a full fire extinguisher onboard.

You can request a "no harm-no foul" safety inspection from the Coast Guard and most state fish and wildlife agencies. Asking for a free inspection can point out safety deficiencies on your boat, allowing you to get them fixed before you are stopped for a surprise safety inspection on the open water.

Driving Safely on the Water: Summer Boating Safety

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