Arizona's Operating a Watercraft (Boating) Under the Influence Laws

Read about Arizona OUI (operating a watercraft under the influence) law and the consequences of a conviction.

By Josh Egan

Arizona law prohibits boating while under the influence (BUI) of drugs or alcohol—more commonly called "operating under the influence" (OUI). The law applies to the operation of all “motorized watercraft,” regardless of whether the motorization is the main source of propulsion. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 5-301 (2016).) A person can be convicted of OUI for operating or being in actual physical control of a motorized watercraft while:

  • impaired to the “slightest degree” by drugs or alcohol
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08%  or greater (.04% if operating a commercial watercraft) within two hours of boat operation, or
  • having any amount of a drug in the body.

(Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 5-395 (2016).)

OUI Penalties

The consequences of an Arizona OUI conviction depend on the circumstances of the case. But the possible penalties vary depending which of the following classifications an offender is convicted of:

  • Standard OUI. A standard OUI involves boating while “impaired to the slightest degree” by drugs or alcohol, having any amount of drugs in the body, or having a BAC of at least .08% but less than .15% within two hours of operating a watercraft.
  • Second-offense OUI. An OUI counts as a second offense if the boater has a prior OUI that occurred within 84 months (seven years) of the current offense.
  • Extreme OUI. An “extreme” OUI involves boating with a BAC of at least .15% but less than .2% within two hours of operating a watercraft.
  • Super-extreme OUI. A “super-extreme” OUI involves boating with a BAC of .2% or more within two hours of operating a watercraft. 
  • Aggravated OUI. “Aggravated” OUIs come in two types: OUIs involving a passenger under the age of 15 and OUIs where the boater has two or more prior OUIs within the past 84 months (seven years).

OUI penalties might include fines and fees, jail time, and having to complete substance abuse treatment. For instance, a standard first OUI is a class 1 misdemeanor and generally carries at least $1,250 in fines and fees and ten days to six months in jail. The judge must also order all first offenders to be screened for alcohol and drug abuse treatment. (Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 5-395, 5-395.01, 5-396, 5-397 (2016).)

Our “Arizona OUI Penalties” article has a more complete discussion of penalties, including those for repeat, aggravated, and extreme OUIs.

BAC Levels and Presumptions

Arizona OUI law includes "presumptions" about a person's impairment based on BAC level. The presumptions apply to the determination of whether the boater was “impaired to the slightest degree.”

Presumption boater was not impaired. If a boater’s BAC was .05% or less, the judge or jury can presume the boater wasn’t impaired to the slightest degree. So, for example, a jury could presume a boater who had a BAC of .03% was not impaired. But the prosecutor would still have the opportunity to convince the jury otherwise—“rebut the presumption”—with evidence of impairment, such as slurred speech and terrible field sobriety test (FST) performance. If the jurors are unimpressed with the prosecutor's evidence, they can stick with the presumption that the defendant was not impaired.

Presumption boater was impaired. With a BAC of .08% or more, the judge or jury can presume the boater was impaired to the slightest degree. To rebut the presumption, the defense might present evidence of things like perfect navigation prior to the stop or flawless FST performance. 

No presumption. BACs between .05% and .08% are in a neutral zone where no impairment presumptions apply.

(For a discussion of possible OUI defenses, see Possible Defenses to an Arizona OUI Charge.)

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to an Attorney

If you’ve been arrested for operating a watercraft while under the influence, get in contact with an Arizona attorney who handles OUI cases. An experienced OUI attorney can help you navigate the complexities of OUI law and tell you how the law applies to the facts of your case. 

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