Skip to main content

BUI Charge

Can I Get a DUI When Operating a Boat in Massachusetts?  What is a BUI Charge? 

Boating can be an extremely enjoyable pastime, especially during the beautiful summer months.  However, as many excursions often include beer, wine coolers, or other alcoholic beverages, enjoyable boating on the water can easily take a turn for the worst.   Just as serious as a DUI, a boat operator impaired by drugs or alcohol can be charged in Massachusetts with boating under the influence (BUI).  This charge can apply to any watercraft (except a seaplane), including kayaks, canoes, sailboats, center consoles, motorized boats, or any other watercraft.

The penalties for BUI range from driver’s license and boat certificate revocation to significant fines and lengthy jail sentences.  If you have been charged with BUI, you can expect that the charges will be aggressively prosecuted.  Fortunately, a BUI arrest does not always lead to a conviction, especially when a seasoned BUI lawyer is involved. 

If you were arrested for boating under the influence, I can help.  As a criminal defense attorney for felonies and misdemeanors (including alcohol charges), I would invite you to call me for a free consultation.  Once I learn about your case, I can explain the law and your options, and tenaciously advocate on your behalf – both against the prosecution and their efforts to convict, as well as at trial (if a trial takes place).  I have nearly two decades of litigation and criminal defense experience and know how to argue for reduced charges and dismissals.

Call today for a free consult to find out how I can help protect your rights! 

What is Boating Under the Influence (BUI)?

Like an OUI, under Massachusetts law, individuals cannot operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  A person can be convicted of a BUI if: 

  • they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol to an extent that diminishes their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, or
  • they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher.[1]

This means that a person can be charged based solely on their level of impairment (in the absence of a BAC test) or if they have a high BAC reading.

Can I Refuse to Take a BUI Breathalyzer Test?

Through operating a boat on a public waterway in Massachusetts, boat operators by law automatically consent to submit to a chemical test or breath analysis to determine BAC (just the same as drivers).  However, it is still possible to refuse to take a breathalyzer, but not without consequences.  If an individual refuses to submit to a test, their motor vehicle license and vessel registration can be revoked for 120 days.

What are the Penalties for BUI in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts has one of the strongest boating under the influence laws in the nation.  Steep fines, a jail sentence, motor vehicle license suspension, and vessel registration suspension can all be assessed for a conviction.  The severity of the penalties varies based on whether the offender has been previously convicted of a prior BUI or OUI.  The following are the potential fines and jail time one might face if convicted: 

  • First Offense:
    • $100 to $1,000 fine
    • Up to 2.5 years in jail
  • Second Offense:
    • $300 to $1,000 fine
    • 14 days to 2.5 years in jail
  • Third Offense:
    • $500 to $1,000 fine
    • 6 months to 2.5 years in jail 

Will My Driver’s License Be Suspended If I Am Charged with BUI?

A BUI conviction can result in both the suspension of an individual’s motor vehicle driver’s license and boat certificate.  The length of a suspension varies based on the number of OUI and BUI offenses an individual has within the ten years preceding the charge.  The following are the potential revocations associated with a conviction: 

  • First Offense:
    • Up to 1-year license suspension
    • 1-year boat certificate revocation
  • Second Offense:
    • 2-year license suspension
    • 2-year boat certificate revocation
  • Third Offense:
    • 5-year license suspension
    • 5-year boat certificate revocation

Can I Have Alcohol or Beer on My Boat in Massachusetts?

While Massachusetts has open container laws for boating, it can be risky to have alcoholic beverages on a vessel.  When a law enforcement officer makes a traditional drunk driving stop, he or she must have reasonable suspicion before pulling over a driver.  This means that some type of incriminating behavior, such as swerving or other traffic violation, must be witnessed to commence a stop legally.

On the other hand, pulling over a boater is much easier.  Massachusetts law mandates that all boaters are subject to “safety inspections.”  As such, the Massachusetts Environmental Patrol can pull over and board a boat for inspection, without establishing reasonable suspicion.  If alcohol is in plain sight, this can prompt an investigation that can lead to a BUI arrest.  Thus, due to the mandatory, at-will inspections, it may not be in a boat operator’s best interest to have alcohol or beer on board.     

If I Refuse a Breathalyzer, How Can an Officer Prove that I Am Intoxicated?

It is possible to be charged with a BUI, even if an individual refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test.  Officer observations, video, and other circumstantial evidence can be utilized to substantiate a boating under the influence charge.

Marine Enforcement often use seated field sobriety tests (SFST) to evaluate an operator’s impairment level.  Constant motion on the water can have adverse effects on equilibrium; thus, SFST were designed to address several issues faced by marine patrol officers. The following assessments are usually performed while an individual is seated on a boat: 

  • Finger-to-nose
  • Palm Pat
  • Gaze Tracking
  • Hand-Eye Coordination

Just as with an OUI, individuals have the right to challenge the result of any tests taken if they are stopped for suspected BUI.  As an experienced Massachusetts BUI lawyer and OUI attorney, I can challenge the tests conducted by officers, as well as cross-examine them at trial on their conduct and findings.  I will also provide guidance on options for challenging the results can conclusions of any intoxication tests while working tenaciously to protect your rights. 

If You Were Charged with BUI, Call Me for a Free Consult to Discuss Your BUI Charge

Massachusetts boating laws are complex, and the facts of every case are different.  If you were arrested for BUI, call me to schedule a free consultation about your case. 

[1] Massachusetts General Laws, Ch. 90B, Section 8.