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Don’t Drink and Drive (a Boat): The Risks and Consequences of Boating Under the Influence
Grewal Law, PLLC
(888) 211-5798

With summer just around the corner, many people will soon be taking advantage of the spectacular Michigan weather by combining two of the most popular summer pastimes: boating and drinking. Although consuming alcohol on a boat is a fun and relaxing way to enjoy a day with family and friends, it is important to understand the risks and potential consequences of operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol.

In Michigan, it is illegal to operate a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. Michigan law separates boating under the influence into two categories: Boating Under the Influence (BUI) and Boating While Visibly Impaired (BWVI).

Boating Under the Influence

A person can be convicted of Boating Under the Influence for operating a motorboat with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or greater or with any amount of a controlled substance in their body. The first and second BUI convictions a person receives are misdemeanors with possible penalties including community service, jail time, fines, and suspension of the offender’s privilege to operate a motorboat. However, a third BUI conviction is a felony, which results in one to five years in jail and/or $500 to $5,000 in fines.

Boating While Visibly Impaired

Alternatively, a person can be convicted of Boating While Visibly Impaired for operating a motorboat while “visibly impaired due to the consumption of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor and a controlled substance.” Each BWVI conviction a person receives is a misdemeanor with possible penalties including community service, jail time, fines, and suspension of the offender’s privilege to operate a motorboat. However, the penalties increase in severity with each BWVI conviction.

Additionally, the legal consequences of boating under the influence are much steeper if death or injury occurs. In 2019, according to the United States Coast Guard, alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. In accidents where the primary cause of death was known, the USCG listed alcohol as the leading factor in 23% of deaths—an increase from 19% in 2018. If a person operating a motorboat under the influence causes “serious impairment of a body function” of another person, then the operator will be charged with a felony and punished by imprisonment of up to five years and/or a fine of $1,000 to $5,000. If a person operating a motorboat under the influence causes the death of another person, the operator will face a prison sentence of up to fifteen years and/or a fine of $2,500 to $10,000.

If you are planning a day out on one of Michigan’s many gorgeous lakes with family or friends, make sure that you take the same precautions as you would when hitting up the town for a night out drinking at bars or restaurants. Specifically, choose someone ahead of time to be the designated driver/boater who stays sober (or only has a drink or two) while operating the boat. A beautiful Michigan summer day can include both boating and alcohol, but it is important to understand the potential risks and consequences if these activities are not combined responsibly.

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