Can I Get a DUI on a Boat?

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If you’re wondering if you can get a DUI on a boat, the answer is yes – you can be arrested for operating a watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol in South Carolina. The laws are a bit different from driving a motor vehicle on dry land, but it’s still illegal. A Charleston criminal defense lawyer can help you better understand your rights and help you in the event that you are arrested and charged with impaired boating in South Carolina.

What is Impaired Boating?

Under the South Carolina Boating and Safety Act of 1999, the law makes it very clear that it is illegal to operate any form of watercraft while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This includes unlawful prescription drugs or any other form of intoxicating substance. The key, according to the law, is whether your “faculties to operate are materially and appreciably impaired.”  This broad statutory language leaves it up to law enforcement to determine whether they feel you are impaired or not.

What Are the Penalties for Impaired Boating?

Boating under the influence is a misdemeanor. The offenses are generally not severe for first offenses and those who do not cause harm while operating a boat.

  • First Offense. A first offense can get you a fine of $250 and between 48 hours and 30 days in jail. A first-time offender will usually be given court-supervised public service, often instead of jail time.
  • Second Offense. The second time you are caught drinking and operating a watercraft, you will have to pay a fine that can be as much as $5,000, and you could receive a sentence of up to a year in jail.
  • Third Offenses (and subsequent). If you keep getting arrested for drunk boating, you could face fines as high as $6,000 with a jail term up to three years long. As you can see, operating a boat under the influence can be a very serious offense.

What Happens if Someone Gets Hurt? 

Things change pretty fast if you hurt someone or caused serious property damage while you were operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Under Section 50-21-113 of the South Carolina Code, you could face the following penalties:

Serious Injuries:

  • $5,000 to $10,000 in fines
  • Up to 15 years in prison


  • $10,000 to $25,000 in fines
  • Up to 25 years in prison

Clearly, drunk boating is not a joke. The penalties can be extremely severe. In addition to fines and jail time, you will likely lose the right to operate a watercraft for a period of time. Plus, if you hurt or kill someone, your prison sentence cannot be suspended, and probation cannot be offered for any portion of your sentence.

A Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

 Nicer weather is on the way. If you are going out on the boat, make sure you have a designated operator at all times. Never operate a boat or personal watercraft if you’ve been drinking or consuming intoxicating substances or drugs of any kind. If you or someone you know gets arrested and charged with boating under the influence, call David Aylor Law Offices today, or visit us online to get help now. If someone has been injured, you need legal help right away.


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