Boating While Intoxicated in Galveston

February 24th, 2016 by Tad Nelson in DWI

Galveston Bay and Trinity Bay are popular locations for recreational boating. And while many people choose to enjoy alcoholic beverages while out on the water, anyone operating a boat must be mindful of Texas law. Boating while intoxicated is just as much a legal offense under as driving a car while under the influence.

What Is “Boating While Intoxicated”?

The Texas Penal Code defines the offense of boating while intoxicated as “operating a watercraft” while meeting the same legal standard for intoxication as DUI or DWI. In this context, a watercraft includes any “vessel, one or more water skis, an aquaplane, or another device used for transporting or carrying a person on water.” The only exception is a boat “propelled only by the current of water.”

A first offense for boating while intoxicated is considered a Class B misdemeanor. This carries a possible jail sentence of up to three days. However, a second offense—and this includes both boating while intoxicated and DUI or DWI—is a Class A misdemeanor subject to a maximum jail term of 30 days.

How a “Safety Inspection” Can Lead to Your Arrest

While the penalties for boating while intoxicated may be the same as for DWI or DUI, there are differences in how the law is enforced. For one thing, while police in Texas may not conduct random searches of automobiles to screen for drunk drivers—i.e., sobriety checkpoints—the legal and constitutional restrictions are much looser when it comes to boating. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Code authorizes law enforcement to “stop and board any vessel” operating within the public waters of the state in order to conduct a safety inspection. If police happen to discover evidence the boat’s operator is intoxicated while conducting such an inspection, he or she may then be arrested.

Texas courts have held these types of “safety inspections” do not violate a boat operator’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches. In a 2000 decision, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said boat searches are significantly different than DUI checkpoints, which the courts have held are unconstitutional in Texas absent authorization from the state legislature. While driving a car “is a basic, pervasive, often necessary means of transportation in our society,” the same is not true of boating, the court said, noting it was “more commonly associated with recreation than necessity.” Additionally, given that there is no other way to enforce boating safety rules except to allow random stops, a person arrested for boating while intoxicated generally cannot challenge the legality of the search itself.

Have You Been Charged With Boating While Intoxicated?

Although boating while intoxicated may not be as common or well known of an offense as DUI, it still must be taken seriously. If you have been arrested and charged with boating while intoxicated, it is important you seek the assistance of qualified counsel. An experienced Houston boating while intoxicated attorney can advise you of your rights and ensure you receive your day in court. Contact a Galveston boating while intoxicated lawyer the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with someone as soon as possible.

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