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California Boating Under The Influence (BUI) Laws

IMG_7722-300x225As the weather warms up in San Diego, people enjoy the outdoors and get more active. Many flock to the bay, ocean, lakes and rivers to enjoy a day on the water, but be aware that law enforcement agencies are out in full force actively looking to cite people for boating under the influence, BUI’s.

In California, if you operate a motorized boat or any watercraft while under the influence, you can be arrested and charged with a crime. (Note: This code section only applies to motorized vessels, meaning that you cannot be charged under these code sections if your vessel is exclusively self or water propelled such as a kayak, rowboat, or a non-motorized sailboat. Also, there is a “zero tolerance” policy for anyone under the age of 21, meaning if you are underage, any measurable amount of alcohol can lead to BUI charges.)

The Harbors and Navigation Code provides the statutes for BUI. The language of the code is very close in the language in the California Vehicle Code for drunk driving, (see California Vehicle Code section 23152).


Under the Harbors and Navigation Code section 655:

(b) 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.

(c) 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.

(d) No person shall operate any vessel other than a recreational vessel if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent or more in his or her blood.

The code does not bar the operator of the boat or the passengers from drinking or having open containers inside the vessel. However, it is illegal to operate a motorized vessel or serve as a crew member while under the influence or alcohol, a drug, or the combination of both, (see Harbors and Navigation Code section 655.4(a)).

Know the law so you don’t end your fun with a ticket or an arrest for (BUI).  However, if you’re charged with boating under the influence in San Diego, call The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman for help. Speak to Susan directly for your free, confidential 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.