Texas's Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) Laws and Conviction Penalties

Read about the consequences—including jail time, fines, and license suspension—of boating while intoxicated (BWI) in Texas.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

Much like its DWI laws, Texas has laws that make it illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated. This article covers Texas's boating while intoxicated (BWI) rules and the penalties you'll face for a BWI conviction.

Texas's Boating While Intoxication (BWI) Law

Texas law prohibits operating a watercraft while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

How Texas Law Defines "Intoxicated"

A person can be convicted of boating while intoxicated (BWI), sometimes called boating under the influence (BUI), for operating a vessel while:

In other words, a BUI can be based on blood alcohol concentration or actual impairment.

Texas's BWI Law Applies to Motorized and Non-Motorized Watercraft

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." Based on this definition, you can get a BWI on many different types of boats and vessels, including sailboats, rowboats, and canoes.

Texas's Boating While Intoxicated (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 an accident causing "serious bodily injury" to another, or
  • was involved in an accident causing death.

The specific penalties can also depend on circumstances specific to the case that could be characterized as mitigating or aggravating factors. For example, if the boater had a BAC that was just barely over the limit, the judge might find it appropriate to be lenient in sentencing. On the other hand, if the boater was extremely intoxicated, it will probably go the other way, and the judge will be more harsh in imposing a sentence.

Penalties for a 1st BWI Conviction in Texas

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 a 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.

Penalties for a 2nd BWI Conviction in Texas

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.

Penalties for a 3rd BWI Conviction in Texas

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 for Boating Under the Influence in Texas

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 a drug-related suspension within the past ten years.

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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