South Dakota’s Boating Under the Influence Laws

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

South Dakota law prohibits operating a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The term “boat” generally includes all boats over 12 feet in length, motorboats, and jet skis. (S.D. Codified Laws § 42-8-2 (2016).) Generally, a person can be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) for operating a boat while:

  • under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two “to a degree which renders the person incapable of safely driving or operating such boat,” or
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater.

(S.D. Codified Laws § 42-8-45 (2016).)

BAC Levels and Presumptions

South Dakota law includes "presumptions" about a person's impairment based on 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.D. Codified Laws § 42-8-45.4 (2016).)

BUI Penalties

The consequences of a South Dakota BUI depend on the circumstances of the case. But generally a BUI is a class 1 misdemeanor. Convicted boaters face up to one year in jail and/or a maximum $2,000 fine.

(S.D. Codified Laws §§ 22-6-2, 42-8-45 (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 Dakota, 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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