New York’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Laws

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

New York law prohibits operating a boat or other watercraft “propelled in whole or in part by mechanical power” while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. New York has several classifications of boating under the influence (BUI):

  • Boating while ability impaired by alcohol (alcohol-BWAI). An alcohol-BWAI involves boating while impaired to “any extent” by alcohol.
  • Boating while ability impaired by drugs (drug-BWAI). A drug-BWAI involves boating while impaired to “any extent” by drugs.
  • Boating while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol (BWI). A BWI involves boating while impaired to a “substantial extent” by drugs or alcohol.
  • Boating with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more (“per se” BUI). Generally, a per se BUI is defined as boating with a BAC of .08% or more. But for someone operating a “public vessel”—a boat being used for commercial purposes—it’s possible to get a per se BUI with a BAC of .04% or greater.

BUI penalties depend on which classification a boater is convicted of and whether the offender has any prior BUI or driving-under-the-influence convictions. (See N.Y. Nav. Law § 49-a (McKinney) (2016).)

Alcohol-BWAIs

An alcohol-BWAI carries the lightest penalties of the BUI offenses. The consequences for a first, second, and third alcohol-BWAI are:

  • First offense: Violation; $300 to $500 in fines, a maximum of 15 days in jail, or both.
  • Second offense within five years: Misdemeanor; $500 to $750 in fines, a maximum of 30 days in jail, or both.
  • Third offense within ten years: Misdemeanor; $750 to $1,500 in fines, a maximum of 180 days in jail, or both.

All boaters convicted of an alcohol-BWAI—regardless of whether they have prior convictions—will have their privilege to operate a boat suspended for at least six but not more than 12 months. 

Drug-BWAIs, BWIs, and Per Se BUIs

The remaining BUI offenses—drug-BWAI, BWI, and per se BUI—all carry the same consequences. The first, second, and third-offense penalties are:

  • First offense: Misdemeanor; $500 to $1000 in fines, a maximum of one year in jail, or both.
  • Second offense within ten years: Class E felony; $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, a maximum of four years in prison, or both.
  • Third offense within ten years: Class D felony; $2,000 to $10,000 in fines, a maximum of seven years in prison, or both.

For boaters convicted of a first-offense drug-DWAI, BWI, or per se BUI, there’s an operator-privilege suspension of 12 months. Second offenders—those with a prior within the past ten years—face a 24-month suspension. 

Boater Safety Courses

All boaters convicted of a BUI offense must complete an eight-hour boater safety course

Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law

Subsequent to the effective date—November 1, 2016—of Tiffany Heitkamp’s Law, most impaired driving offenses will count as priors for BUI sentencing. As with BUIs, New York has several classifications of impaired driving:

  • Driving while ability impaired by alcohol (alcohol-DWAI). An alcohol-DWAI involves driving while impaired to “any extent” by alcohol.
  • Driving while ability impaired by drugs (drug-DWAI). A drug-DWAI involves driving while impaired to “any extent” by drugs.
  • Driving while ability impaired by drugs and alcohol (combination-DWAI). A combination-DWAI involves driving while impaired to “any extent” by drugs and alcohol.
  • Driving while in intoxicated by drugs or alcohol (impairment-DWI). An impairment-DWI involves driving while impaired to a “substantial extent” by drugs or alcohol.
  • Driving with a BAC of .08% or more (per se DWI). A per se DWI involves driving with a BAC of .08% or more.
  • Driving with a BAC of .18% or more (aggravated per se DWI). An aggravated per se DWI involves driving with a BAC of .18% or more.

(N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 1192 (McKinney) (2016).)

For those convicted of a drug-BWAI, BWI, or per se BUI, the new law will count all of the following as prior offenses:

  • drug-BWAI
  • BWI
  • per se BUI
  • drug-DWAI
  • combination-DWAI
  • impairment-DWI
  • per se DWI, and
  • aggravated per se DWI.

However, impaired driving convictions won’t count as priors for purposes of operator-license suspensions.

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 boating under the influence, you should get in contact with a local attorney that handles BUI cases. An experienced attorney can tell you how the law applies to the facts of your case and whether there are any available defenses to your charges. 

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