Boating While Intoxicated in Houston

Boating is one of the most popular recreational activities in the Houston area, infact League City / Kemah is in the Guinness World Records for having the most registered boats in one place. However, drinking and boating is dangerous and the cause of most boating fatalities. Boating While intoxicated (BWI) is illegal in the State of Texas and is strictly enforced by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. Lake Livingston, Lake Conroe, Lake Houston, Moses Lake, Nassau Bay-Clear Lake, Swan Lake, Mud Lake, Taylor Lake, West Bay, East Bay, Trinity Bay and Galveston Bay are the most common waters where people are charged with BWI in the Houston area.

The Texas Penal Code defines the offense of boating while intoxicated as “operating a watercraft” while has a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher or when you have lost your normal physical or mental faculties. “Watercraft” means a vessel, one or more water skis, an aquaplane, or another device used for transporting or carrying a person on water, other than a device propelled only by the current of water. This definition excludes crafts like rowboats, kayaks, inner tubes and canoes, if they are propelled by human power (without the use of motors).

The same definition of intoxication is used for BWI as used for DWI, ie the government must prove that a citizen has lost the normal use of his/her physical or mental faculties or has a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or more.

BWI carries similar fines and penalties to DWI, including possible Boating Driver’s License suspension. First BWI Offense is a Class B Misdeameaner and carries a fine up to $2,000 and/or jail time up to 180 days, Second BWI Offense is a Class A Misdeamanor and carries a fine up to $4,000 and/or jail time up to one year, and Third BWI Offense is a Felony and carries a fine up to $10,000 and/or jail time of 2-10 years.

First, open containers are legal while boating, but operators of boats are subject to boating while intoxicated laws, similar to driving a vehicle. Operators or passengers may also be subject to public intoxication laws.

Second, a person arrested and convicted for BWI cannot challenge the legality of the stop and search because –

        • There is no other way to enforce boating safety rules except to allow random stops. The TPWD can conduct a safety inspections by stoping and boarding any vessel operating within public waters.
        • Texas Courts have upheld that these “safely inspections” do not violate 4th amendment rights to privacy and to be free from unreasonable searches & seizures on the grounds that while driving is a mean of transportation, boating is recreational.

Third, conducting SFST (Standard Field Sobriety Tests) after people have been on the water presents some unique challenges for the Texas Parks and WildLife Wardens. People often suffer from “sea legs” after being in a watercraft for an extended period of time which can affect the performance and accuracy of the field sobriety tests. Furthermore, game wardens are instructed to allow 15 minutes of observation before administering SFSTs on land after removing a subject from the water.

A good BWI lawyer should know the differences between DWI and BWI to defend your Boating While Intoxicated case. If you or someone you know has been arrested for Boating While Intoxicated, don’t hesitate – call Jonathan J. Paull today to fight your BWI charges at (713) 227-1525.

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