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.
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." (Utah Code Ann. § 73-18-2 (2016).) This broad definition includes just about anything on water that relies on a motor or engine to move.
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.
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.
BUI penalties in Utah are the same as a DUI in the state. So the consequences for a first, second, and third BUI are:
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.
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’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.