Iowa’s Boating While Intoxicated Laws

Read about the consequences of boating while intoxicated (BWI) in Iowa.

Iowa law prohibits operating a motorboat or sailboat while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. A person can be convicted of boating while intoxicated (BWI) for operating a watercraft while:

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the extent that it “affects the person’s reasoning or mental ability, impairs a person’s judgment, visibly excites a person's emotions, or causes a person to lose control of bodily actions”
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater, or
  • having any amount of a controlled substance in the body.

(Iowa Code Ann. § 462A.14(1) (2016).)

BWI Penalties

The consequences of an Iowa BWI depend on the circumstances of the case. But generally, the consequences are:

  • First offense. A first BWI is a “serious misdemeanor” and generally carries 48 hours to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines. First offenders also face a one-year suspension of their boat operating privileges.  
  • Second offense. Where a BWI offender has a prior BWI conviction that occurred within 12 years of the current violation, the second offense will be an “aggravated misdemeanor” and generally carries at least seven days in jail and $1,000 to $5,000 in fines. Second offenders also face a two-year suspension of their boat operating privileges. 
  • Third offense. Where a BUI offender has at least two prior BWI convictions that occurred within 12 years of the current violation, the third or subsequent offense will be a class D felony and generally carries 30 days to one year in jail and $2,000 to $7,000 in fines. Third offenders also face a six-year suspension of their boat operating privileges.
  • BWI involving serious injury. A BWI involving serious injury to another person is a class D felony and generally carries 30 days to five years in jail, $2,500 to $7,000 in fines, and a one-year suspension of boat operating privileges.
  • BWI involving death. A BWI involving death to another person is a class B felony and generally carries up to 25 years in prison and a six-year suspension of boat operating privileges.  

Judges are generally required to referral all BWI offender for substance abuse evaluation and treatment. In some cases, a judge can order an offender to complete a program in a treatment facility in lieu of jail time.

(Iowa Code Ann. § 462A.14(2) (2016).)

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 or charged with boating under the influence in Iowa, get in contact with an experienced BWI attorney. The facts of every case are different. A good BWI attorney should be able to explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on your best course of action.

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