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Boating While Intoxicated in Texas: Is It the Same as DWI?

Texas Laws On Boating While Intoxicated

Spending some time on the lake or a river is a common pastime in Texas. Many people enjoy celebrating holidays or simply spending a relaxing weekend fishing or boating on Texas rivers and lakes. In many cases, these outings include the consumption of alcohol.

Although some people may not see anything wrong with having an alcoholic beverage while relaxing on the lake, operating a boat or watercraft while under the influence is a serious crime in Texas. Intoxicated boat operators may pose a serious danger to themselves and others. For this reason, Texas has strict laws regarding the operation of a boat while intoxicated.

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Texas BWI Laws

In many ways, Texas laws on BWI (Boating While Intoxicated) are very similar to laws regarding driving a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. For example, Section 49.06 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a criminal offense to operate a watercraft while intoxicated.

Just as with DWI laws, a person can be considered intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. However, a person can be considered intoxicated if their intake of drugs or alcohol has made them lose their normal judgment and coordination. This means that a person can be arrested and charged with BWI even if they do not necessarily have a BAC of 0.08 or greater.

While a person can be charged with driving a vehicle while intoxicated on a public roadway, this same stipulation does not apply to boating while intoxicated charges. For example, a person may not be guilty of DWI if they drive a vehicle on a private drive while intoxicated. However, BWI charges may be filed if a person is intoxicated while operating a watercraft on any body of water.

For example, Joseph is celebrating the 4th of July holiday on a public lake near his home. He drinks several beers over the course of an afternoon, giving him a BAC of 0.10. A police officer notices that Joseph is steering his boat erratically and boards his boat to perform a sobriety test. If Joseph fails the test, he may be taken into custody and asked to provide a sample of his blood or breath.

BWI laws apply to many forms of watercraft, including:

  • Boats, whether they are powered by an engine or sails
  • Jet skis and Sea-Doos

To put it simply, if you can steer a powered craft on a body of water, you can be arrested for doing so while drunk or high on drugs.

DWI vs. BWI

Although the crimes of Boating While Intoxicated and Driving While Intoxicated share some similarities, there is one major difference between these two offenses.

To pull over a car on suspicion of DWI, a police officer must have a reasonable suspicion to make the stop. This suspicion could be raised by erratic driving, stopping in an intersection or very high rates of speed.

This stipulation does not apply to BWI. A police officer may approach a powered watercraft at any time and conduct a check for safety purposes. If you are operating a powered watercraft, it is perfectly legal for a police officer to board your vessel and investigate, even if you are not acting strangely.

A Note About Jurisdiction

Although the letter of the law states that any person who is intoxicated while operating a watercraft may be charged and arrested, there is an issue with jurisdiction.

For example, suppose that Marcus has a private pond behind his house, which is located on several acres of land. In theory, Marcus could be arrested and charged with BWI if he gets drunk while operating his fishing boat on the private pond. However, it is unlikely that this will occur because it happened on private property.

In most cases, police officers would need some type of reasonable suspicion that a crime was occurring in order to enter a person’s private property to investigate a BWI.

Legal Penalties

In Texas, the penalties for a BWI conviction are the same as they are for a DWI charge. A first-time conviction for BWI is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by:

  • A minimum term of confinement of 72 hours
  • Up to 180 days in county jail
  • A fine of up to $2000

In addition, a person who is convicted of BWI may lose their license to operate a watercraft and be ordered to pay surcharge fees to the state. They may also be banned from operating a watercraft for a certain length of time. They may also lose their license to operate a watercraft for up to 180 days if they refuse to submit to sobriety test.

In many cases, a BWI charge will stay on a person’s record permanently. This can affect job searches or attempts to obtain a boating license in the future.


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