Massachusetts’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Laws

Read about the consequences of boating under the influence (BUI) in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts law prohibits operating any vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The term “vessel” means a “watercraft of every description, except a seaplane on the water used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 90B, § 1 (2016).) A person can be convicted of boating under the influence for operating a vessel while:

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol so that substances ingested “diminished the [person’s] ability to operate a motor vehicle safely,” or
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater.

(Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 90B, § 8(a)(1) (2016); Com. v. Connolly, 394 Mass. 169 (1985).)

Jail and Fines

The possible jail sentences and fines for a BUI conviction depend on whether the offender has previously been convicted or assigned to an alcohol education or rehabilitation program because of a prior BUI or DUI offense. An assignment or BUI conviction counts as a prior—for purposes of jail and fines—when it occurred within six years of the most recent offense. Here's the penalties:

  • First offense. A first-offense BUI generally carries up to two and one-half years in jail and/or $100 to $1,000 in fines.  
  • Second offense. A second-offense BUI generally carries 14 days to two and one-half years in jail and $300 to $1,000 in fines.  
  • Third offense. A third-offense BUI generally carries six months to two and one-half years in jail and $500 to $1,000 in fines.

License and Boat Certificate Revocation

The length of license and boat certificate suspension depends on whether the offender has previously been convicted or assigned to an alcohol education or rehabilitation program because of a prior BUI or DUI offense. An assignment or BUI conviction counts as a prior—for purposes of suspensions—when it occurred within ten years of the most recent offense.

  • First offense. For a first-offense BUI, the boater generally faces a one-year license revocation and possibly a one-year boat certificate revocation.
  • Second offense. For a first-offense BUI, the boater generally faces a two-year license revocation and possibly a two-year boat certificate revocation.
  • Third offense. For a first-offense BUI, the boater generally faces a five-year license revocation and possibly a five-year boat certificate revocation.

BUI Involving “Serious Bodily Injury” or Death

Enhanced penalties apply to BUI offenses involving “serious bodily injury” or death to another.

  • Serious bodily injury. When a BUI involves serious bodily injury to another, the offender typically faces 30 days to two and one-half years in jail and/or at least $3,000 in fines. However, if the boater was additionally operating the vessel “recklessly or negligently,” the offense carries six months to ten years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. Generally, the registrar of motor vehicles will revoke the boater’s license and boat certificate for two years.
  • Death. When a BUI involves death to another, the offender can be convicted of “homicide by a vessel while under the influence of an intoxicating substance” and typically faces 30 days to two and one-half years in jail and/or $300 to $3000 in fines. However, if the boater was additionally operating the vessel “recklessly or negligently,” the offense carries one to 15 years in jail or prison and up to $5,000 in fines. Generally, the registrar of motor vehicles will revoke the boater’s license and boat certificate for ten years.

(Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 90B, §§ 8A, 8B (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

Massachusetts BUI law is complicated and the facts of every case are different. If you’ve been arrested for boating under the influence, get in touch with an experienced BUI lawyer. A qualified attorney can 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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