Lake Murray Towers, Lexington, SC

Know the Laws and Penalties when it comes to drinking and boating

One of the biggest perks of living in South Carolina is that you are near the coast and also have an abundance of lakes and rivers. This location provides easy access to one of the most popular recreational activities; boating.

Lake Murray, situated right here in the greater Columbia area, is a prime spot for water-related activities and provides thousands of people a day a chance to get out on the water. Boaters come from Columbia, Irmo, Lexington, Chapin and beyond, to enjoy a relaxing day at the lake.

While out on a boat, many people like to enjoy adult beverages as part of their experience. If you are going to drink while you’re out on a boat, you need to know the laws related to drinking and boating. If you are suspected of being impaired, you can be charged with Boating Under the Influence, or BUI. While there are numerous laws that govern activities on the waterways, I will be referring to BUI, Felony BUI, and Reckless Homicide by Boat in this article.

Much like with car accidents, statistics tell us that alcohol is a major cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths, on South Carolina waterways. You don’t need a license to drive a boat. However, you still have to follow the laws. Otherwise, you could end up in a bad situation. If you come into contact with law enforcement while operating a boat, and they believe you to be impaired, you may be charged with Boating Under the Influence (BUI).

Probable cause is not required to stop you for suspicion of BUI

Unlike situations involving cars where officers may need reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop or question you regarding potential DUI charges, on the water the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can conduct a safety check without needing either. In order to establish that someone operating a boat is guilty of Boating Under the Influence, the officer must be able to prove that the driver was materially and appreciably impaired due to the consumption of alcohol, and/or drugs, and should not have been behind the wheel of the boat.

How can they tell if the driver of a boat is impaired?

How does an officer go about establishing that a driver of a boat is impaired? They have many tools at their disposal to do so. The BUI investigation shares many parallels with DUI.

  • First, the officer can observe the individual and look for clues to impairment in their behavior: speech, balance, and so forth.
  • Next, the officer can utilize a myriad of field sobriety tests that are designed to determine potential impairment (some would argue that they are designed to make you look guilty).
  • Finally, the officer can ask you to take a breathalyzer test to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). You can refuse the officer’s request, but this will result in an immediate 6 month loss of boating privileges.

What happens if you are convicted of BUI charges?

Compared to DUI Penalties, boating under the influence penalties start off more severe. In South Carolina, a BUI first offense carries jail time of 48 hours to 30 days, and a roughly $1,000 fine or community service. You will also not be allowed to drive a boat for 6 months and be required to take a boater safety class.

For a 2nd offense of BUI, the penalties are even steeper. You will be looking at up to 1 year in prison, a fine of roughly $5,000, loss of boating privileges for a year, and a boater safety class.

If you happen to find yourself with a 3rd BUI offense, you could be looking at up to 3 years in prison, a $6,000 fine, 2 years loss of boating privileges and a boater safety course.

Other BUI related charges

Other offenses that a person can be charged with, that are even more serious are:

  1. Felony BUI with Great Bodily Injury
  2. Felony BUI causing death
  3. Reckless Homicide by Operation of a Boat

Any of these offenses can result in significant prison time.

Contact a lawyer ASAP to defend yourself from BUI charges

As you can see, the potential consequences of an offense involving boating under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs are quite serious. Whether you were charged on Lake Murray, or one of the other bodies of water in South Carolina, I urge you to seek the assistance of an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible. There are some aspects of your case that could be time sensitive. Get someone fighting on your behalf as soon as possible, to do whatever it takes to try to prevent you from being convicted, or otherwise facing the full brunt of the criminal penalties associated with these offenses.


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