Serving People Throughout Colorado

Call Us For Free Consultation:

Exploring the more than 2,000 lakes and reservoirs in Colorado is a great way to spend an afternoon, day, or weekend. Being on the water is relaxing and gives you time to catch up with family and friends.

It is not unusual to enjoy a few drinks while on the water; however, Colorado has specific laws related to the consumption of alcohol while on a boat. Knowing what the laws are will help you avoid legal trouble.

You may think drinking while on a boat is “no big deal.” After all, if a collision occurs, the possibility of serious injuries is less than in a car accident. While this is true, it does not mean there are no risks. Some boat accidents can cause serious injuries and may even lead to someone drowning after the impact.

You may face criminal charges if you are involved in a boat accident involving alcohol. If this happens, it is recommended that you contact our criminal law attorneys from the Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani, LLC. We will investigate your charges and help build a solid defense for your situation.

Related Article: 5 Things You Should Know About DUI in Denver

Laws Regulating Alcohol Consumption While on a Boat in Colorado

It is not illegal to take alcohol on a boat. However, it is illegal to operate the boat under the influence of alcohol. In the state of Colorado, these offenses are taken seriously.

Suppose you are caught and arrested for BUI (boating under the influence). In that case, you can face severe consequences upon conviction, including up to a year in jail, up to $1,000 in fines, mandatory community service, and the suspension of your boating privileges.

Before 2008, the legal limit of alcohol you could have to operate a boat was 0.10%. However, this was changed to 0.08% in 2008, making it the same as the range for a DUI (driving under the influence) charge.

Important Rules Related to Boating and Drinking in Colorado

BUI charges are not exclusive to boating. They also apply to Jet Skis, kayaks, canoes, and more. The law states that any watercraft operated by oar, paddle, wind, or motor is considered a boat.

According to today’s laws, all vessels or watercraft being physically operated or controlled by someone under the influence of alcohol can result in BUI charges.

For example, if you operate a non-motorized canoe with a BAC (blood alcohol content) of 0.12% or higher, you will likely be charged with BUI.

BUI and DUI charges are similar but not identical. In Colorado, boats are not considered “motor vehicles.” This is not the case in many other states.

This means that BUI charges are not handled through the DMV and are not influenced by any DUI charges. Also, the points you have on your driver’s license are not impacted by BUI charges.

Related Article: What Are Possible Defenses to DUI and DWAI Charges in Colorado?

When Can the Authorities Stop Your Boat?

With DUIs,authorities must have probable cause to pull you over when driving. While this is true for  boaters, the standards for probable cause are much lower.

Sometimes, a boat is stopped to check the safety equipment on board. If evidence of alcohol or drugs is found during the stop, the authorities have the right to order the operator to submit to a BAC test.

Anyone operating a boat is piloting it. Also, if a boat owner allows someone intoxicated to operate their boat, the owner and operator may face BUI charges. Prior BUI convictions and refusing the BAC test can impact the outcome of a BUI hearing.

Potential Penalties for a Colorado BUI Conviction

The penalties can be severe if you are convicted of BUI in Colorado.

First Offense

For a first BUI conviction, you will face the following penalties:

  • Prohibited from operating a boat for a minimum of three months
  • Jail time of at least five days with a maximum of one year
  • Fines of $200 to $1,000
  • Up to 96 hours of mandatory community service

In some situations, first-time offenders can avoid jail time if they agree to complete a treatment program.

Second Offense

The following penalties apply to your second BUI if you receive it within five years of the first offense:

  • 60 days to one year in jail
  • 60 to 120 hours of mandatory community service
  • Prohibited from operating a boat for one year
  • Fines of $500 to $5,000
  • Up to two years of probation
  • Prohibited from drinking alcohol for up to a year (usually a stipulation of your probation)

If the court orders that you abstain from drinking and using drugs, it also has the authority to monitor the use of these items by any means necessary.

Related Article: Are DUI Checkpoints Legal?

The Potential Impact of Alcohol While Boating

It is important to understand the risks of boating and drinking. While it is illegal to do this, the dangers put you and others at risk while on the water.

Alcohol can impact your judgment, coordination, balance, and vision. These impairments increase the possibility of accidents for you, your passengers, and people in the water or on other boats.

According to data from the U.S. Coast Guard, in boating deaths that involved alcohol use, more than half of the victims had capsized their vessels or fallen overboard.

Many people don’t realize that alcohol use on the water can be more dangerous than on land. Things like the sun, wind, engine noise, motion, and vibration all accelerate the rate that you become intoxicated. These sources of stress can also increase fatigue, which results in a faster decline in your reaction time, judgment, and coordination.

You also must consider experience. Most boat operators don’t have as much experience operating a boat as they do driving a car. In fact, most boaters only have about 110 hours on the water each year. This lack of experience and confidence also increases the possibility of accidents, especially when combined with alcohol use.

The fact is that alcohol has several physical effects that can threaten your safety and well-being while on the water. These include the following:

  • Judgment and cognitive abilities deteriorate, making it harder to make good choices, assess situations, or process information.
  • Alcohol creates a sensation of physical warmth, which may keep you from getting out of cold water, causing hypothermia.
  • Physical performance is impaired, which can impact your balance, coordination, and reaction time.
  • Inner ear disturbances make distinguishing between up and down difficult if you fall in the water.
  • Vision issues like reduced depth perception, poor focus, reduced night vision, and problems telling between different colors occur with alcohol use.

All these issues increase the possibility of a boat accident significantly.

Related Article: What to Expect When Charged with Your Second DUI in Denver

Call a Criminal Law Attorney in Colorado to Help with Your BUI Case

Contact our criminal defense lawyers immediately if you are charged with BUI in Colorado. At the Law Offices of Steven J. Pisani, LLC, we can work to build a strong defense for your case and provide you with the aggressive legal services you need.

Read More

See Clients’ Testimonial


Request a FREE Case Review