Boating is a popular sport and hobby in Texas, with over 7,000 lakes and the Gulf of Mexico bordering one side of the state. Texas has more square miles of water inland than any other state in the country. As with its road and traffic laws, Texas is strict when it comes to boating regulations. Drinking alcohol while boating is no exception. It is against the law in Texas to operate a boat or vessel while intoxicated. 

Texas’s Boating While Intoxicated Laws

The intoxicating influence of drugs and/or alcohol on a boater can interfere with the operator’s judgment, information processing, decision-making, reflexes and the physical ability to safely control a vessel. Intoxication also increases the odds of reckless boating behaviors, such as speeding or racing, that can result in boat accidents. The risks and dangers associated with boating while intoxicated are why Texas has strict laws against them.

While it is legal for a boat passenger to imbibe in alcohol, it is against the law for a vessel operator to be intoxicated. According to Texas Penal Code Section 49.06, it is an offense to be intoxicated while operating a watercraft. This includes kayaks and canoes as well as motorized watercraft. In Texas, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit to determine intoxication is the same for a watercraft as it is for a motor vehicle: 0.08 percent. At or above this limit, a boater is legally intoxicated and could get arrested for boating under the influence (BUI) in Texas. 

Penalties for BUI in Texas

Drinking and boating can result in serious penalties for the intoxicated boat operator, including the loss of his or her boating license (known as a Texas Boater Education Card) and driver’s license. If a boater is convicted of boating under the influence or boating while intoxicated in Texas, he or she could face consequences such as:

  • A fine of up to $2,000 and/or 180 days in jail for a first offense.
  • A fine of up to $4,000 and/or 1 year in jail for a second offense.
  • A fine of up to $10,000 and/or 2 to 10 years in jail for a third offense.
  • The suspension or revocation of the individual’s boater’s license.
  • The suspension of the individual’s driver’s license for 180 days.
  • Points against the driver’s license.

A BUI is considered a misdemeanor in Texas. If there are aggravating circumstances surrounding the BUI, however, the charges could be enhanced to a felony. Section 49.09 of the law states that the penalties for operating a watercraft while intoxicated can be enhanced if the arrested individual has prior “under the influence” convictions or caused serious bodily injury to another person.

Texas’s Open Container Law on Boats

Texas also has an open container law that prohibits the possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. This rule does not apply, however, to boats and water vessels. It is legal to operate a boat with open cups, bottles and cans of alcohol onboard. However, the boat operator should not be holding any open containers or imbibing in the alcohol.

What Happens When an Intoxicated Boater Causes a Boat Accident?

When a boating accident is reported to the Texas Fish & Wildlife Department, an officer will arrive at the scene to investigate. If it is discovered that one of the boaters is under the influence of an intoxicating substance (alcohol, drugs or prescription medications), he or she may get arrested for a suspected BUI. If the boater is convicted of this offense, he or she could receive a sentence with various penalties.

If the boating accident caused anyone else physical injuries or property damage, the intoxicated boater who is at fault may be held liable (financially responsible) for the collision. The boater’s insurance company may have to pay for victims’ bills and repairs. Boat insurance is not mandatory in Texas, however. This means that, in some cases, an intoxicated person who causes a boat accident will have to pay out of pocket. If you get injured in a boat accident and suspect the operator was boating under the influence, contact a boating accident attorney in the San Antonio area to determine your legal options.