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

Read about boating under the influence (BUI) in Utah.

Most states have laws that specifically criminalize boating under the influence (BUI). But Utah has taken a different approach. Utah doesn't have separate BUI laws. Instead, law enforcement prosecutes BUI under the Utah DUI statutes. So the DUI statutes apply to boaters and motorists alike.

A "Motorboat" Counts as a "Vehicle"

Utah prohibits operating a "vehicle" while having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05% or more or under the influence of drugs or alcohol to a degree that it is unsafe to operate a vehicle. The definition of "vehicle" includes a "motorboat." And Utah law defines "motorboat" as "any vessel propelled by machinery, whether or not the machinery is the principal source of propulsion." This broad definition includes just about anything on water that relies on a motor or engine to move.

Utah DUI Laws Apply to Waterways and Roads Alike

Some people mistakenly believe that Utah's DUI laws apply only to someone operating a vehicle on a road. However, Utah's DUI statute forbids operating under the influence while "within this state"—the law isn't limited to just roadways. The law's wording allows the state to prosecute for DUI/BUI regardless of the driver's choice of terrain.

Who Can Arrest Me for Boating Under the Influence?

In Utah, police officers aren't the only ones that can investigate and arrest for BUI. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Officers and other park rangers also have the authority to make arrests if they are POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certified.

Generally, an officer can stop a boat if there's reasonable cause to believe the boat operator is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. During BUI investigations, officers typically look for the same impairment indicators as they do with DUI stops—things like slurred speech, red and watery eyes, and the odor of alcohol.

Utah BUI Penalties

BUI penalties in Utah are the same as a DUI in the state. So the consequences for a first, second, and third BUI are:

  • First offense. Most first BUIs are class B misdemeanors. But if the BUI offender causes "bodily injury" to another or a has passenger under the age of 16 (or under a passenger under 18 years old if the driver is under 21), it's a class A misdemeanor. A first-offense BUI carries at least 48 hours of jail, community service, or home confinement and over $1,300 in court-ordered fines and fees.
  • Second offense. A second-offense BUI within ten years of a prior BUI conviction is either a class A or class B misdemeanor, depending on whether the offense involves bodily injury or minor passengers (see "first offense" above). Generally, a second offense carries at least 240 hours of jail, community service, or home confinement and over $1,500 in court-ordered fines and fees.
  • Third subsequent offense. If a BUI offender has at least two prior BUI convictions within the past ten years, the third or subsequent offense is a third-degree felony. Generally, a third offense carries up to five years in prison or 1,500 hours in jail or home confinement and at least $2,800 in fines and fees.

    Typically, judges must order all BUI offenders to participate in substance abuse screening and either complete treatment or a substance abuse education program. For a first offense, a judge has the option of ordering supervised probation and an ignition interlock device (IID) on any car the person drives. If a person had a high BAC (.16 or greater), the court must include both supervised probation and an IID as part of the sentence. IIDs are also mandatory for second and subsequent offenses.

    A Utah BUI carries administrative penalties as well—meaning, the Utah Driver's License Division (DLD) can generally suspend a BUI offender's license, even before the case makes it to court. With few exceptions, if someone fails to request an administrative review hearing within 10 days of a BUI arrest, the DLD will automatically suspend driving privileges.

    Talk to an Attorney

    If you've been arrested for boating under the influence, you should get in contact with a local attorney that handles BUI cases. An experienced attorney can tell you how the law applies to the facts of your case and whether there are any available defenses to your charges.

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