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In California, Can You Be Charged With DUI While Boating (BUI)?

Drunk boating charges were recently brought against Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist whose life was the basis of the self-titled movie, according to examiner.com. She was boating on Lake Mead in Nevada and she caught law enforcement’s attention when she was struggling to dock her boat. After an investigation, she was arrested for OUI, or Operating Under the Influence, Nevada’s version of California’s DUI laws.

California also has drunk boating statutes which are found in the California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 655. The language used in the boating under the influence, or BUI, statutes is very similar to the drunk driving statutes, California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) & (b). Section 655(b) is similar to the (a) count for DUI, and it specifically states, “No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.”

California Harbors and Navigations Code Section 655(c) is similar to the (b) count for DUI, and it specifically states, “No person shall operate any recreational vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more in his or her blood.”

These code sections pertain to recreational vehicles; however, if a person is operating a commercial vehicle, the Harbors and Navigation Code 655(d) states, “No person shall operate any vessel other than a recreational vessel is the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent or more in his or her blood.”

If any injuries are involved, the boat operator can be charged with Section 655(f) of the Harbors and Navigation Code. This is similar to California Vehicle Code Section 23153 and it expressly states, “No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug, and while so operating, do any act forbidden by law, or neglect any duty imposed by law in the use of the vessel, water skis, aquaplane, or similar device, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than himself or herself.”

Open containers are allowed inside a boat and passengers and drivers can consume alcohol. It is only illegal to operate a boat while under the influence.

San Diego law enforcement are out in full force over the summer months ensuring our beaches and local waterways are safe. They will arrest those they believe are under the influence and operating a motorized boat. If you are arrested for BUI, you owe it to yourself to hire a criminal defense attorney who specifically handles DUI matters.


If you’re charged with boating under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in San Diego, call The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman for help. We offer a free, confidential phone consultation, so you can learn about your rights and options with no obligation. Call us at 619-260-1122 or use the “Contact Us” form on this page.