Texas’s Boating While Intoxicated Laws

Read about the consequences of boating while intoxicated (BWI) in Texas.

Texas law prohibits operating a watercraft while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. The law defines “watercraft” as “a vessel, one or more water skis, an aquaplane, or another device used for transporting or carrying a person on water, other than a device propelled only by the current of water.” (Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 49.01(4) (2016).) A person can be convicted of boating while intoxicated (BWI), sometimes called boating under the influence (BUI), for operating a vessel while:

  • impaired by drugs or alcohol so as not to have “normal use of mental or physical faculties,” or
  • having a blood, breath, or urine alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 49.01(2), 49.06 (2016).)

BWI Penalties

The penalties for a Texas BWI depend on a number of factors, including whether the operator:

  • has prior BWI or driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions (BWIs and DWIs both count as priors)
  • was involved in accident causing “serious bodily injury” to another, or
  • was involved in accident causing death.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 49.06, 49.07, 49.08, 49.09 (2016).)

First-Offense BWI Penalties

Most first-offense BWIs are class B misdemeanors and carry up to $2,000 in fines and between 72 hours and 180 days in jail. However, if a first offender caused injury or death to another person, the penalties are:

  • Serious bodily injury to another (intoxication assault): Third-degree felony; between two and ten years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
  • Death (intoxication manslaughter): Second-degree felony; between two and 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

And the penalties are further enhanced if the victim either suffered traumatic brain injury that resulted in a “persistent vegetative state” or was a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical personnel in the line of duty.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 12.22, 12.33, 12.34, 49.06 (2016).)

Second-Offense BWI Penalties

A BWI counts as a second offense if the offender has ever been convicted of a BWI or DWI in the past. Generally, a second BWI is a class A misdemeanor and carries up to $4,000 in fines and between 30 days and one year in jail.

(Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 12.21 (2016).)

Third-Offense BWI Penalties

If a boater has two prior BWI or DWI offenses, the third BWI will be a third-degree felony. Three-time offenders face between two and ten years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

License Suspensions

All boaters who operate a watercraft with a BAC of .08% face driver’s license suspension. The suspension period is six months or one year, depending on whether the offender had an alcohol or drug-related suspension within the past ten years.

(Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 524.022(a) (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.

Get in Touch with a Lawyer

BWI law is complicated and constantly changing. If you’ve been arrested for boating while intoxicated, get in contact with an experienced attorney who handles BWI cases. A qualified attorney can give you the full picture of how the law applies to the facts of your case. 

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