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Drinking and Boating Laws in Texas

In Texas, it’s illegal to drink alcohol while operating a boat. This law extends to more than just motorboats—it also applies to:

  • Canoes
  • Kayaks
  • Paddle boats
  • Sailboats
  • And other similar vehicles

Even though many people view boating as less dangerous than driving, the reality is that safety is just as important. Fatalities occur each year as a result of impaired boating.

Most people are familiar with the term “DWI” (driving while impaired) when it comes to operating automobiles. But if you’re caught driving a boat and drinking alcohol, you could be charged with a BWI (boating while impaired).

An operator can become impaired after the consumption of alcohol or other mind-altering substances, such as marijuana or prescription drugs.

Protect yourself by gaining a more thorough understanding of boating laws. We’re going to review what you need to know as boating season begins:

The Legal Limit

What amount of alcohol is legal to drink before boating? If you give a breathalyzer sample and have a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) that’s higher than 0.08, you’re over the legal limit.

A common misconception is that you cannot be charged if your BAC is below the legal limit. But those who are displaying obvious signs of intoxication can still receive a BWI for displaying incapacitated mental and physical ability, impaired judgment, slurring, and/or poor coordination.

When your boat is stopped by the police, you may be subject to a sobriety test. Refusing to provide a sample or comply may result in an immediate license suspension. Even if a driver is below the legal limit, they will be arrested regardless if they’re under 21 years of age or are exhibiting intoxicated behavior.

You’ll save on the cost of claims and potential fines by waiting until you’re done boating to have a drink. But you may need life insurance if you practice risky behaviors when boating.

Can Passengers Drink on a Boat?

As long as you aren’t the person who’s operating the boat, you are permitted to drink on it. It is legal in Texas to have an open container of alcohol on the boat if you’re one of the passengers. However, this poses risks of its own.

Keep your mental faculties intact so that you’re ready if an accident occurs. Mixing alcohol with swimming can be a lethal combination. This is due to impaired judgment, depth perception, and coordination. In the Texas summer heat, you can easily become dehydrated. If you were to fall in the water, you may be at an increased risk of drowning.

Whenever you’re consuming alcohol, be sure to do so responsibly, especially on open water.

Penalties for Boating While Impaired

Contrary to popular belief, the consequences for a BWI can be just as severe as those for a DWI. If the driver has received a BWI in the past, punishments will be more severe. They include:

  • A driver’s license suspension. Even if you’re caught driving a boat while impaired, the police still have the right to suspend your driver’s license. Your driver’s license may also be suspended if you refuse to provide a breath sample.
  • Jail time. Did you know that a BWI could result in a jail sentence? Sentences range from 6 months to 10 years, depending on how many times you’ve been charged with a BWI.
  • A fine. For your first offense, you may pay up to $2,000, but for your third, that increases to $10,000. Each subsequent offense will incur a larger fine. Fines will increase if you’re found to be breaking other rules too, such as displaying distracted boating or failing to wear a lifejacket.
  • A criminal record. One mistake can lead to a lifetime of trouble when searching for housing or employment. A criminal record can follow you for many years.

The consequences of a BWI will vary based on your specific circumstances. If you find yourself in legal trouble, keep in mind the following things to focus on when hiring a lawyer: experience, strong communication skills, an upstanding reputation, and expertise in boating and drinking laws. An attorney with these skills can help you navigate the complexities of a BWI charge.

In Texas, boating safety laws are taken extremely seriously by law enforcement. Drinking and boating isn’t worth the risk.

For the health and safety of yourself and those around you, keep alcohol out of your boat when you’re the one driving. Doing so will protect you from the severe legal ramifications that result from breaking this law.

Author information: Catherine Holland is a writer based in Canada. She writes articles with a focus on law and business for a variety of companies. Some of her favorite pieces can be found on Matt Gould’s website.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

About This Blog

The title of this blog reflects my attitude toward those government agencies and insurance companies that routinely mistreat injured or disabled people. As a Dallas, Texas lawyer, I've spent more than 45 years trying to help those poor folk, and I have been frustrated daily by the actions of the people on the other side of their claims. (Sorry if I offended you...)

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