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About Tennessee's boating under the influence laws

Operating a mechanically-powered vessel or sailboat while under the influence of alcohol is a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee. For the most part, the rules regarding alcohol impairment that apply on the water are the same as those that apply to drivers of motor vehicles. You can be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) if you are found to have blood alcohol content of .08 or more. The operator of a boat gives implied consent to blood alcohol testing, just as the driver of a car or truck does. The penalties upon conviction for BUI are the same as for DUI. And during certain holiday periods, officers from the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) intensify their enforcement efforts, just as state and local police on land do.

But there are several important differences between BUI and DUI cases. This blog post will discuss some of these differences and their implications when it comes to the defense of BUI charges.

Rowboats and paddle-powered boats are excluded

Tennessee's BUI laws (Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-9-217) apply only to operators of boats that must be licensed. That means all vessels that are mechanically-powered (including trolling motors) as well as sailboats. Oared boats and paddle-powered craft are excluded, as are wind-surfing boards. Regarding pedal boats, it's probably difficult to be so reckless as to draw the attention of law enforcement officers while operating that kind of boat. But operators of pedal boats could be charged with BUI if they are found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Anchored and moored boats are exempt

This is the biggest difference between BUI and DUI in Tennessee. The driver of vehicle on land can be arrested for DUI even when the vehicle is parked and the engine is turned off. But as long as the anchor is dropped or the boat is moored, a boat operator is not subject to Tennessee's BUI laws. If you want to drink while on the water, do it while anchored or moored - and let a sober person drive the boat back to the boat ramp or dock.

Officers may use different field sobriety tests

Some of the standard field sobriety tests used on land (such as the walk-and-turn or the one-leg stand) cannot be performed on the water. As a result, TWRA officers may ask boat operators to perform different field sobriety tests, such as reciting the alphabet or counting backwards. Whether you are on the water or land, it's best to politely refuse to perform field sobriety tests. Refusing to consent to a breath, blood or urine test however, is an entirely different matter. You should speak with an attorney before deciding whether to refuse to consent to a blood alcohol test.

Boaters may feel the effects of alcohol or drugs more than vehicle drivers

The TWRA and other authorities believe that the effects of alcohol or drugs are felt more acutely on water than on land. The theory is that that the sun, wind, and wave motions combine to make one drink on water the equivalent of three drinks on land. That's debatable, but if true, it makes it easier for TWRA and other law enforcement agencies to spot boaters who may be over the limit. Keep that in mind before drinking and boating.

As with DUI, there are many possible defenses to BUI charges. If you have been arrested for BUI, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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