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Five Facts about Boating While Intoxicated in Texas

Updated: Jun 26, 2023 @ 8:35 am

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

The Lone Star States recognizes that intoxicated boating is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and the state has criminalized operating a watercraft while intoxicated. In legal circles, we call this offense Boating While Intoxicated, or BWI.

During the holidays many people are out on the water enjoying themselves, and law enforcement has a visible presence looking for anyone who is behind the wheel of a boat while drunk. Below, our BWI lawyer gives you 5 fast facts about this crime.

1) BWI & DWI Have Identical Legal Limits

You are legally intoxicated if your blood alcohol concentration is at least 0.08 and you are an adult over age 21. Similarly, you can be convicted of both DWI and BWI if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol to the extent that you don’t have normal use of your faculties, such as physical coordination.

There is a greater risk of being impaired while out on a boat, however. Sun can cause confusion and dehydration, which will increase any impairment from the alcohol or drugs. Sun can also blind you, so someone struggling with blurred vision will have an even harder time seeing straight. For these reasons, you should be that much more careful while boating if you have had anything at all to drink.

2) “Watercraft” Has a Broad Definition

It is illegal to operate a watercraft while intoxicated. The statute defines watercraft to include:

  • Vessel
  • Water skis
  • Aquaplane

In fact, any device can be classified as a vessel if it is used to transport people on water and is propelled by something other than just the water current.

3) A First-Offense is a Class B Misdemeanor (Usually)

Under Texas Penal Code 49.06, a first-time BWI offense is a Class B misdemeanor which comes with a maximum $2,000 fine and 72 hours in jail, up to 180 days behind bars.

However, if you have a very high BAC (.15 or higher) then you can face Class A misdemeanor charges, which means a minimum of 30 days in jail. And that’s for just a first offense.

You will also face higher penalties if someone is hurt while you were boating while intoxicated. This is a third-degree felony if someone suffers a serious bodily injury that would lead to permanent disfigurement or the impairment of an organ or bodily member. So crashing your boat and permanently blinding a passenger could lead to third-degree felony charges.

4) Repeat Offenders Face Increasing Penalties

However, you can get a higher sentence if you have a prior conviction for:

  • Boating While Intoxicated,
  • Flying While Intoxicated,
  • Driving While Intoxicated, or
  • Assembling or Operating an Amusement Ride While Intoxicated.

If this is your second offense, you can face a Class A misdemeanor charge, which results in up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

And what if this is your third offense? You can face third-degree felony charges. In Texas, third-degree felons can go to state prison for a maximum of 10 years.

5) It Might Be Easier to Defend a BWI Charge

There are a few reasons why you might have a better chance of defending against a BWI charge compared to a DWI.
For one, there might be a factual dispute about who was operating the watercraft. In a car, it’s hard to swap seats with the driver while the car is in motion. For that reason, whoever is behind the wheel when the officer pulls you over is the driver.

Things are different on a boat. It’s often easier for people to slip out from behind the controls of a boat.
Consequently, it’s harder for the state to prove with certainty who was operating the watercraft.

Second, it’s harder to show your faculties are impaired if you are out on the water. While driving a car, there are landmarks the police use, such as the center line. If you drift or swerve over it, they can argue you are impaired. This is harder to prove with watercraft which are subject to water currents and wind, so any erratic motion could be caused by nature.

Third, field sobriety tests are less reliable out on the water. That helps us argue you aren’t intoxicated.
Unless you blow a high number on a breath test, you might have a strong hand arguing you didn’t break the law. You are presumed innocent unless convicted beyond a reasonable doubt.

Facing Criminal Charges for Boating & Drinking?

Tad Nelson Can Help

Our legal team takes pride in our many successes defending people with criminal charges related to operating a watercraft while intoxicated. You deserve the best defense possible, so please call us today to schedule a consultation. To reach our law office, call us today at 713-802-1631.

Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A Nelson is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the TBLS.

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