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Boating under the influence

Boating under the influence, or intoxicated boating, is a crime in Wisconsin

In the summer many Wisconsinites enjoy spending time on the lake.  And many Wisconsinites enjoy drinking alcohol.  Dangerous (and sometimes criminal) results frequently occur when the two combine.  Boating under the influence is a crime similar to operating while intoxicated.  The two, however, are distinct crimes with different penalties.

Drunk driving/boating defense attorney Matthew R. Meyer explains:


What is boating under the influence?

Intoxicated boating is prohibited by section 30.681 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  The law indicates a few things:

Wisconsin Statute section 30.681(1)(a): … No person may engage in the operation of a motorboat while under the influence of an intoxicant to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safe motorboat operation.

Wisconsin Statute section 30.681.(1)(b): … No person may engage in the operation of a motorboat while the person has an alcohol concentration of .08 or more.  … No person may engage in the operation of a motorboat while the person has a detectible amount of a restricted controlled substance in his or her blood.

Finally, what about commercial motorboats? It is a crime to operate a commercial motorboat while intoxicated.  Section 30.681(1)(b)(2) of the Wisconsin Statutes describes that crime.  The law indicates: No person may engage in the operation of a commercial motorboat while the person has a blood alcohol concentration of .04 …


A group of friends drinks alcohol and operates a motoboat.
Boating under the influence (BUI) is a crime in Wisconsin.


What are the penalties for intoxicated boating?

Intoxicated boating, like drunk driving, has certain mandatory penalties upon conviction:

  • 1st offense: A fine of $150.00 – $300.00.
  • 2nd offense within 5 years of 1st offense: A fine of $300.00 – $1,000.00, and 5 days – 6 months jail.
  • 3rd offense: $600.00 – $2,000.00, and 30 days – 1 year county jail.
  • 4th offense: $600.00 – $2,000.00 and 60 days – 1 year county jail.
  • 5th offense  or subsequent: $600.00 – $2,000.00 and 6 months – 1 year county jail.

Interestingly, even upon a 4th offense (or any subsequent offense), BUI is not a felony offense.  This is in stark contrast with drunk driving, which becomes a felony upon a 4th of subsequent conviction.  Section 30.80 of the Wisconsin Statutes provides all intoxicated boating penalties.


Counting prior convictions

In order to be charged with 2nd offense boating while intoxicated, the defendant must have been convicted on one prior occasion.  For a third offense, the law requires two prior convictions.  This seems obvious.  But, importantly, OWI (driving) and BUI (boating) do not share previous convictions.

For example, if I have a drunk driving conviction on my record, and I’m caught boating while intoxicated, I’m not charged for a 2nd offense BUI.  Instead, I’m charged with a first offense.  And the opposite is true for drunk driving.  If I’m convicted of one boating while intoxicated charge, and am pulled over for drunk driving (in a car), it’s a first offense.


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What happens when someone gets hurt?

Section 30.681(2) of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits causing injury while under the influence of an intoxicant: No person while under the influence of an intoxicant to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safe motorboat operation may cause injury to another person by the operation of a motorboat.

Upon violation of this section, the defendant is subject to a fine of $300 to $2,000.00, and imprisonment of between 30 days and one year in the county jail.


Operation Dry Water

Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in boating deaths in the United States.  Alcohol contributes to 19% of boating deaths between 2009 and 2017.  In 2017, the Coast Guard counted 4,291 accidents that involved 658 deaths, 2,629 injuries, and approximately $46 million dollars of damage as a result of recreational boating accidents.  These staggering numbers encouraged the initiation of Operation Dry Water.

Operation Dry Water is a year-round boating under the influence awareness and enforcement campaign.  Operation Dry Water’s mission is to reduce the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities through increased recreational boater awareness and by fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol use in the water.


Contact Meyer Van Severen, S.C. for superior BUI defense

The criminal defense attorneys at Meyer Van Severen, S.C. specialize in defending all criminal offenses.  Contact us immediately if charged with drunk driving, boating under the influence, or any other criminal offense.  Finally, call us at (414) 270-0202 to begin working on your BUI case.