Tennessee’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Laws and Penalties

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

Tennessee law prohibits operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The term “vessel” includes “every description of watercraft, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” (Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-9-204(29) (2016).) A person can be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) for operating a vessel while:

  • impaired by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two, or
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater.

Tennessee’s BUI statute doesn’t define what it means to be “impaired.” But Tennessee DUI law says a driver is “under the influence” when the intoxicating substance “impairs the driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle by depriving the driver of the clearness of mind and control of oneself that the driver would otherwise possess.” (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 55-10-401, 69-9-217 (2016).)

BUI Penalties

The consequences of a Tennessee BUI depend on the facts of the case. But generally, BUIs are class A misdemeanors with the following penalties:

  • First offense. A first-offense BUI generally carries up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, $250 to $2,500 in fines, and a maximum one-year boating privilege suspension.
  • Second offense. A second-offense BUI generally carries up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, $500 to $2,500 in fines, and a two-year boating privilege suspension.
  • Third offense. A third or subsequent BUI generally carries 30 days to 11 months and 29 days in jail, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, and a three to ten-year boating privilege suspension.

For purposes of determining whether a BUI is first or subsequent offense, prior BUI convictions that occurred more than ten years ago don’t count. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-9-219 (2016).)

As part of a sentence, a judge can order also a BUI offender to pick up litter in public areas for a certain number of hours or days. And generally, anyone convicted of a second or subsequent BUI must participate in a substance abuse treatment program. (Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-9-219 (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 Tennessee, 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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