California's Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Laws and Penalties

Read about the consequences—including possible jail time and fines—of boating under the influence (BUI) in California.

California law prohibits operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Generally, the term “vessel” means all watercraft, including motorboats, sailboats, and jet skis. A person can be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) for operating a vessel while:

  • impaired to an “appreciable degree” by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two, or
  • having a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater (.04% or more for non-recreational vessels).

BUI Penalties

California BUI penalties depend on whether the offender has a prior BUI or driving under the influence (DUI) conviction within the past seven years. The consequences for a first and repeat-offense BUI are:

  • First offense. For a first BUI, or where all priors BUI and DUI convictions were at least seven years ago, the court can impose up six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. As a condition of probation, the court can order the offender to complete a substance abuse education or treatment program.
  • Repeat offense. Where a BUI offender has a least one prior BUI or DUI conviction that occurred within the past seven years, the court can impose up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines. As a condition of probation, the court can order the offender to participate in substance abuse treatment for at least 18 or 30 months.

Boater Safety Courses

All boaters convicted of a BUI involving a “mechanically propelled vessel”—a watercraft equipped with a motor—must complete a boater safety course approved by the California Department of Boating and Waterways within six months of their conviction.


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 California, 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 California BUI law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide the best course of action.


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