Mark Mandell, Esq.
As we approach summertime and holidays like the Fourth of July, Michiganders will soon flock to their cottages and their boats. Michigan actually has one of the highest rates of boat ownership per capita in the nation.1
And have you ever stopped to think, “Is it really legal to drink while driving a boat?” If you’ve been a spectator at Jobbie Nooner on Lake St. Clair, MI, surely this thought might have crossed your mind at some point.
The short answer is, yes. It is lawful to drive a boat with an open container or two of alcohol. But you have to be careful not to cross the line.
Indeed, the rules for drinking and boating differ in some important ways from drinking while driving. The laws for drinking while boating are governed by the Marine Safety section of Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act
Many Michigan boaters will be surprised to find out that the legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) on the water is .10, as opposed to .08 on the roads.
Further, Zero Tolerance laws do not apply on the water as they do on the road. That means you cannot be charged for boating while intoxicated (BUI) if you have taken a prescription medication, and boaters under 21 are held to the same standards as adults.
All this might sound great and more lenient, but boaters should also take caution. When you’re out in the sun all day, just a few drinks could get you to that .10 threshold quickly if you don’t hydrate with water. And just like on the roads, there’s implied consent on the water. (Check out our Fraud Blog’s latest post on Implied Consent in Michigan: click here)
Under implied consent on the water, when you get behind the wheel of a boat you are considered to have consented to a BAC test. Even if you don’t take a breathalyzer test, you can still be detained and taken back to shore if you appear to be disorientated, confused, smell of alcohol, or were driving recklessly.
It’s also important to note that these laws not only apply to boats. Jet skis, kayaks, canoes, and any other type of water craft that can be used for transportation fall within the reach of these laws.
It is also unlawful for the owner of a vessel to allow anyone else to operate their vessel if that person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The penalties for a BUI?
- For a first conviction, up to 93 days in jail, 45 days of community service, a fine of up to $500, or any combination of those penalties.
- Another offense within seven years may lead to jail time up to one year, with a minimum of 48 hours of consecutive jail time, fines ranging from $200-$1,000, and up to 90 days of community service.
- Upon a third conviction within 10 years, a person will be guilty of a felony, saddling you with a punishment of no less than one year and up to five years of jail time, a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both.
- Enhanced penalties for causing death or disfigurement for another are sentences of up to 15 years and 5 years respectively.
It’s important to note that a prior drunk-driving offense cannot be used to enhance a drunk-boating offense, and vice-versa. And while drunk driving offenses have a lifetime “look back” period for felonies, the drunk-boating look back period cuts off at 10 years.
So if you and your family head out on the water this summer, as many Michigan families do, boat safely and drink responsibly. A few Corona and limes on a nice summer day could get you into more trouble than you think if you’re not careful, even with a BAC limit of .10 on the water.
1 Keeping Your Head Above Water in Drunk Boating Cases, Patrick Barone. https://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article1300.pdf