The Fourth of July is known for fireworks, barbeques, and celebrating our great country. Unfortunately, Texas law enforcement officers think more about DUI rates skyrocketing during this holiday celebration.
You may be thinking to yourself, “Thank goodness I’m not driving – I’m boating!” Walking between your beach house and the boat poses no risk, right?
Sure, you’re probably okay getting there and home by foot, but what about your time on the water? Getting behind the wheel of any motorized vehicle (even on that takes you over water) after a few drinks could ruin your Independence Day holiday.
One Texas man made headlines in 2016 after crashing his boat on Lake Travis during the Fourth of July. Two people were sent to the hospital, more were injured, and the man was charged with boating while intoxicated. Don’t let this happen to you.
About Texas Boating While Intoxicated Charges (BWI)
Yes, Texas has specific laws regarding boating under the influence. Operating a speedboat, catamaran, or any sort of watercraft while impaired still poses a huge risk to the driver and anyone in the water.
The legal definition of “watercraft” includes water skis or any “device used for transporting or carrying a person on water.” So taking your boat for a spin after a few beers is against the law.
Surely a drunk canoe trip or kayaking after a joint doesn’t count, though, right? In fact, they do – and law enforcement officers are even proposing that current laws cover more types of transportation, including inner tubes.
Some states have increased the legal BAC for boating while intoxicated. Adults over 21 must have a .08 BAC to be arrested for DWI, but a .10 BAC to be arrested for BWI.
Texas has made it clear, however, that the BAC for BWI and DWI are the same. Even a few light beers could put you over the limit, and if you’ve got, you’re going to want someone on your side who knows the law.
Are There BWI Checkpoints in Texas?
Texas does not currently have a formal written policy on setting up BWI checkpoints, but that doesn’t mean you might not face questioning from police on or off the water.
Like a BWI, refusing to participate in a chemical test (breathalyzer, blood test, etc.) may result in separate criminal charges.
Penalties For Boating While Intoxicated
Penalties for boating while intoxicated primarily depend on whether or not this is your first time facing these charges. Everyone makes mistakes, but once someone has multiple BWIs on their record, the law really cracks down.
- First Offense: Class B misdemeanor; penalties include at least three, but no more than 180 days in jail and up to $4,000 in fines
- Second Offense: Class A misdemeanor; penalties include at least one month, but no more than one year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines
- Three or more BWIs: Third-degree felony; penalties include at least 2, but no more than 10 years in state prison and up to $10,000 in fines
All offenders convicted of BWI will also face a driver’s license suspension. That’s right. Even if you have never driven drunk in your life, a BWI could potentially take away your license for six months.
Additionally, when your license had been suspended for a DWI in the past ten years, the suspension will last for one year.
If, while boating under the influence, you caused serious bodily injury to another person, you will be charged with a felony. Even if it’s your first BWI. Serious bodily injury may result in 2-10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Death increases the potential jail time to 20 years.
Staying Safe This Fourth of July Weekend in Texas
A BWI arrest is just the beginning of your troubles. Don’t let a couple of cold ones keep you from enjoying your entire summer. Follow these tips for staying safe during the Fourth of July holiday:
- Choose a designated boat driver.
- Talk to your friends and family members about BWI charges and penalties in Texas.
- Stay hydrated — one glass of water between each alcoholic beverage will do it.
- Give yourself a “time-out” before hitting the lake. Your body processes one alcoholic drink per hour, and it takes even longer if you are downing multiple drinks during that time.
- Download an app to track your BAC.
BWI charges do not automatically come with BWI penalties, but you have to understand how the law works and you have to fight back. Don’t take your boating while intoxicated charges lightly.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.