Operating a vessel on Texas waters while intoxicated is dangerous...and illegal
Most of the time, driving while intoxicated charges stem from allegations that someone was operating their motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
However, in Texas, it’s possible to be charged with operating other types of vehicles and vessels while intoxicated – including engine-powered boats, personal watercraft, and sailboats.
More and more, people are facing Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) charges as the number of boating accidents has skyrocketed at destinations like Lake Conroe and Lake Houston. In 2020, Texas experienced 281 reported boating accidents, including 55 fatal boat crashes, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
Alcohol was cited as a factor in about 30 serious Texas boating accidents in 2020, resulting in 35 injuries and 8 deaths.
Texas BWI penalties
If convicted, a BWI can result in serious penalties and affect your ability to operate a vehicle on water and land.
In cases where no one is injured, BWI is a misdemeanor with a mandatory minimum sentence of 72 hours confinement.
A first-time BWI conviction comes with a penalty of up to $2,000 in fines and up to 180 days in jail. Third BWI convictions can result in up to $10,000 in fines and 10 years imprisonment.
More than just BWI?
BWI is not the only charge you can face while operating a boat in Texas. If you injure someone when you're operating a boat while intoxicated, you could be charged with Intoxication Assault or Intoxication Manslaughter. Even if you accidentally hurt someone, you can still be charged. Both are felonies.
You can also be charged with evading arrest if you try to escape the police in a watercraft.
Your license to operate a motor vehicle on land is automatically suspended if you are arrested for BWI, intoxication assault, intoxication manslaughter, or if BAC results show you have a level of 0.08 percent or higher.
Texas boating laws
Other Texas boating laws include “implied consent” and “stop and render aid.”
The implied consent law requires drivers and boat operators to submit to a BAC test if a police officer reasonably suspects them of drinking and driving. The standard for boating while intoxicated is the same as it is for DWI. Having a BAC (blood alcohol content) level of 0.08 percent or higher means a person is legally intoxicated.
Refusing to take a BAC test will most likely result in the suspension of your driver’s license for at least 180 days. For a lot of people, this suspension is preferable to creating evidence the police can use against them.
Texas also has a “stop and render aid” law that applies to boating. The statute requires vessel operators to stop and help accident victims unless doing so would endanger their own vessel, crew, or passengers.
Let a Texas BWI lawyer review your case
If you are facing BWI charges in Houston, The Woodlands, or Montgomery County, you can learn your legal rights and options during a free consultation with an experienced Texas BWI attorney.
Our law firm knows how to successfully defend boat operators and motorists in Texas, and we would be honored to speak with you about your potential legal case.
Contact us today.