South Carolina’s Boating Under the Influence Laws

Read about the consequences of boating under the influence (BUI) in South Carolina

South Carolina law prohibits operating a motorboat, jet ski, or sailboat while under the influences of drugs or alcohol. The law defines “under the influence” as “impairment to the extent that the person's faculties to operate are materially and appreciably impaired.” (S.C. Code Ann. §§ 50-21-10, 50-21-112(A) (2016).)

BAC Levels and Presumptions

South Carolina law includes "presumptions" about a person's impairment based on blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The presumptions apply to the determination of whether the boater was “under the influence” of alcohol.

Presumption boater was not under the influence. If a boater’s BAC was .05% or less, the judge or jury can presume the boater wasn’t under the influence. So, for example, a jury could presume a boater who had a BAC of .03% was not under the influence. 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 poor 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 under the influence.

Presumption boater was under the influence. With a BAC of .08% or more, the judge or jury can presume the boater was under the influence. To rebut the presumption, the defense might present evidence of things like safe boat navigation prior to the stop or good FST performance. 

No presumption. BACs between 05% and .08% can be considered by the judge or jury, but no presumptions apply.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 50-21-114 (2016).)

BUI Penalties

The consequences of a South Carolina BUI depend on the circumstances of the case. But most BUIs are misdemeanors and the possible penalties are:

  • First offense. A first-offense BUI carries $200 in fines, 48 hours of jail time or community service, and a six-month boating privilege suspension.
  • Second offense. A second-offense BUI carries $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, at least 48 hours in jail or 10 days community service, and a one-year boating privilege suspension.
  • Third offense. A third-offense BUI carries $3,500 to $6,000 in fines, 60 days to three years imprisonment, and a three-year boating privilege suspension

For purposes of determining whether an offense is a second or subsequent BUI, only BUI offenses that occurred within the past ten years count. (S.C. Code Ann. § 50-21-112 (2016).)

BUIs Involving Property Damage, Injuries, and Death

A BUI offender who causes property damage, injuries, or death while boating under the influence, faces enhanced penalties. These penalties are:

  • Property damage or minor injuries. BUIs involving damage to the property of or minor injuries to another are misdemeanors. Convicted boaters face at least $500 in fines and/or up to 30 days in jail. The judge must also suspend the offender’s boating privileges for one year.
  • Serious bodily injury. BUIs involving “serious bodily injury” to another are felonies. Convicted boaters face $5,000 to $10,000 in fines, 30 days to 15 years imprisonment, and a three-year boating privilege suspension.
  • Serious bodily injury. BUIs involving death to another are felonies. Convicted boaters face $10,000 to $25,000 in fines, one to 25 years in prison, and a three-year boating privilege suspension.

(S.C. Code Ann. § 50-21-113 (2016).)


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 South Carolina, get in contact with an experienced BUI attorney. The facts of every case are different. A good BUI 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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