Charged with Boating While Intoxicated?

Have you been charged with boating while intoxicated (BWI) in the Fort Worth or DFW area? If your family trip or time with friends on the river or lake went awry, and you were arrested for alleged boating DWI, we can help. We have extensive experience bringing drinking and driving cases before trial in Tarrant County, and have impressive case numbers that you are welcome to review.

Texas has nearly 600,000 registered watercraft according to Texas Parks and Wildlife. During 2013, there were 209 incidents of boating while intoxicated. As with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, boating while intoxicated is also a crime under Texas Penal Code § 49.04. Boating While Intoxicated  that carries penalties and fines just as severe as operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

When Can Police Stop Your Boat Legally?

When you are operating a motor vehicle on Texas roadways, a law enforcement officer must have probable cause to stop you for any reason. However, on Texas waterways, there are different rules.

Law enforcement can stop the driver of a boat or watercraft to allegedly perform a “safety check”. One of the most common safety checks law enforcement pursue before charging people with BWI is a life jacket check. Legally there should be at least one life jacket on the boat for each passenger. You may be wondering how this can possibly lead to a BWI charge; you’ll be surprised.

When Law Enforcement Can Pursue BWI

Let’s suppose you are stopped on the waterways for a routine security check. You and your passengers have a beverage in your possession. The law enforcement officer happens to notice you have bloodshot eyes and suspects this could be a result of alcohol. You happen to know that your eyes are sensitive to the sun and you’ve failed to wear a hat or sunglasses to keep the sun out of your face. At that time, the officer may ask you to submit to a chemical test to determine if you’re intoxicated. This is just one example of how law enforcement can pursue BWI charges.

Is it Legal to Drink Alcohol While Driving a Boat in Texas?

Yes, here are no specific laws that prevent you from having alcohol on a watercraft in Texas. In fact, open containers are legal on the waterways. That’s right, you can legally drink alcohol while driving a boat in Texas. But the laws are a little tricky, which is why so many people feel confused after getting charged with BWI.

Texas Laws About Operating a Boat and Drinking Alcohol

Just because it’s legal to drink while operating or riding in a boat on Texas waters doesn’t mean you can’t be charged with BWI.  Your passengers may even be charged with public drinking and/or public intoxication. Additionally, anyone stopped on the waterways asked to submit to a breath test or other test for drinking is required to submit or face the loss of their boat operator’s license for up to six months.

Even with these facts, in most cases, it’s a good idea to refuse to submit to any sobriety test on the waterways. Contact a boating while intoxicated attorney right away if you are charged with BWI, they can start building your defense and gathering witnesses to help your case.

The Problem With “On-Boat” Sobriety Tests

Here’s the problem with submitting to testing while on a boat. Let’s face it, boats don’t provide the most stable surface for a sobriety test. Can you stand on one leg and/or walk in a straight line in a moving boat when sober? Most people cannot. This is the problem with sobriety tests administered on boats.

Commonly called “SFST” (Standardized Field Sobriety Tests) you could be asked to do something that is nearly impossible on a boat; even if the officer takes you to a pier or dock there could be problems with the outcome of the test, especially if you’re tired from a day on the water.

Possible Defenses for BWI

Interestingly enough, the defenses for BWI are similar to those for driving under the influence.  If you did submit to field sobriety tests, the first defense would be to fight against the results. Because there are other valid explanations for sobriety test failure, this is always a good option. For example, if you had a beer 20 minutes before law enforcement did a breath test, there’s a really good chance that test would be unreliable in trial. Certain medications and food could also cause false signals.

When an arrest is made on “visible signs of intoxication”, which is possible, it’s easy to fight back. For example, bloodshot eyes could be a result of being tired, a result of the wind in your face while boating and even certain medical conditions.  Remember, just because you received a BWI arrest doesn’t mean the prosecutor can prove the charges.

Penalties for a Boating While Intoxicated Conviction in Texas

When you’re facing charges for boating while intoxicated, it’s important to remember the penalties can be very serious. Under Texas statutes, even a first time offense has consequences just as severe as DWI punishment. The penalties for BWI are:

  • First BWI Conviction – fines of up to $2,000 and/or 180 days in jail
  • Second BWI Conviction– fines of up to $4,000 and/or one year in jail
  • Third BWI Conviction – fines of up to $10,000 and/or jail for 2 – 10 years

Another common problem you could face, which many boaters are unaware of, is that since 2001 it is possible to lose your drivers license in Texas for up to 180 days if you are arrested operating a watercraft, with a horsepower rating higher than 50, and are facing BWI charges. This is one of the reasons it’s so important for you to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately after being arrested.

Contact a Defense Lawyer for Boating While Intoxicated

When you’re facing charges of boating while intoxicated it’s also important to be aware that various factors can result in charge enhancements. Basically enhancements to the charges mean the class of charge is elevated, making the fines, prison time, and other punishments more severe. For example, if someone was injured in a boating accident and your blood alcohol level was tested and came in above .15 you could be facing additional charges.

Regardless of whether this is your first charge or you’ve faced BWI charges before, it’s important to make sure you get competent legal help. You have a lot at risk and need someone to protect your rights and fight hard on your behalf. Call 817-435-2909 now to schedule a free case evaluation with a BWI lawyer at the Hampton Criminal Defense Attorneys, PLLC.