Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak or Canoe?

Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak or Canoe
Can You Get a DUI on a Kayak or Canoe

Most boaters never think about whether or not they can get a DUI on a kayak or canoe. In fact, many of them erroneously believe that they can’t get a DUI on a non-motorized vessel.

Unfortunately, thousands of kayakers and canoers find out the hard way that it is possible to get a DUI on a kayak or canoe. It’s surprising, I know. That’s why I will cover everything you need to know about DUI laws in relation to canoes and kayaks. Most of this information also applies to boats.

Note: This article isn’t legal advice. Consult a lawyer for legal advice.

Can I Get a DUI on a Canoe or Kayak?

Yes, you can get a DUI on a canoe or kayak in most states. It’s actually called boating under the influence (BUI) or boating while intoxicated (BWI), but the penalty is almost always the same as a DUI.

What Is the Blood Alcohol Limit for a BUI?

The blood alcohol limit for a BUI is usually 0.08 g/dL of alcohol. That generally means two or three alcoholic drinks. The exact number will depend on your weight, though.

Also, some states have a slightly higher blood alcohol limit.

What Is the Penalty for a BUI on a Kayak or Canoe?

The penalties for a DUI on a kayak or canoe are fairly severe. I’ve included some of the penalties you can expect. Please note that the exact penalties vary depending on the jurisdiction.

First BUI – The penalty on your first BUI is usually a night in jail ($250-$750 bond), a fine not exceeding $1000, and your kayak or canoe getting impounded for 1-30 days. It is a misdemeanor, so you will face up to 6 months in jail. It’s rare for a defendant with no criminal record (and a good lawyer) to serve any jail time for their first BUI.

Many jurisdictions even have a pre-trial diversion program for your first DUI/BUI charge. This program usually involves about 6 months of probation, 10-50 hours of community service, and a fine in exchange for the State dropping charges.

Second BUI – Your second BUI is more severe than your first. You will usually face 0-364 days in jail, community service, a more expensive fine, a more severe misdemeanor charge, and your vessel may get impounded for 30 days. No pre-trial diversion program is offered for a second BUI, so you will likely have to take the charge.

You will usually pay a fine that ranges from $1000-$2000, do community service, and have 6-12 months of probation. Some judges might sentence you to some jail time, but you probably won’t receive the maximum sentence if you have a clean record.

Third (or more) BUI – Your third BUI is a serious crime. In most states, you will face a minor felony charge (usually 3rd degree), 1-5 years in prison, and a fine ranging from $2000-$5000. Many jurisdictions will impound your vessel for 30-90 days for a third BUI.

You really should stop drinking after your second BUI or DUI.

BUI Accident – You will face extra charges if you are involved in a boating accident while intoxicated. If you caused a minor injury or property damage, then the penalty will usually resemble the penalty for a BUI. If you caused a fatality or serious injury, then you will face a third, second, or first degree felony with a range of 1-30 years in prison.

Most kayaking and canoeing accidents are not fatal nor do they cause more than $1000 in damages, but it can still happen. For instance, if your passenger gets injured because you tipped your canoe while intoxicated, then you might face a charge. The same applies if you drunkenly paddle your kayak into a busy channel and cause a fatal accident.

It’s rare, but it does happen.

Can I Get a BUI If My Kayak or Canoe Is Not Motorized?

Can I Get a Bui If My Kayak or Canoe Is Not Motorized?

Yes, in most states you can get a BUI even if your kayak or canoe does not have a motor. However, it does depend on the state and the arresting officer’s interpretation of the law. Some states have a very narrow definition of the word “vessel” or only define “motorized vessels.”

Other states, such as Florida, have a very broad definition of the word “vehicle” and “vessel.” Generally, most police officers will arrest you for BUI if you are operating any vessel while intoxicated. They let the judge and lawyers figure out if the charge sticks, and you have to spend the night in jail.

Can My Passengers or I Drink Alcohol on a Canoe or Kayak?

Yes, in most states you and your passengers are allowed to drink alcohol on a canoe or kayak. The operator(s) just cannot have a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit. The operator is usually allowed to drink alcohol but please check your local laws. Some jurisdictions might have open container laws.

Who Is the Operator on a Two-Person Canoe or Kayak?

Who Is the Operator on a Two-Person Canoe or Kayak?

The operator on a two-person vessel is any person that contributes to the movement of the vessel. In the case of a canoe or kayak, this is anyone that is using a paddle or operating the motor.

Can I Get a BUI While High on Marijuana (Or Other Drugs)?

Yes. You can receive a BUI, or DUI, while on any mind-altering drug. This includes legal and illegal drugs.

That means no marijuana, Ambien, cocaine, or any other drug. Please, avoid operating vessels while under the influence of any drugs for your safety and the safety of others.

Can I Get a BUI on a Private Lake or Pond?

This depends on the state. Some states ban drunk boating within the state while others only ban it on public water. That said, enforcing BUI on private property is very difficult because the police usually can’t access your lake or pond. Some game wardens can still enter private property, though.

Keep in mind that you still might face criminal charges, and a civil lawsuit, if you are involved in a boating accident on private property while intoxicated if property damage or injuries occur.

Can I Get a BUI in International Water?

Yes. If you are in a US flagged vessel, then you have to obey US federal law (enforced by the US Coast Guard).

I’ll admit that it’s difficult to take a kayak or canoe into international waters, but it’s still possible in certain parts of the world (ex. The Bahamas or Gulf of Mexico). In this case, you would actually pay a civil penalty to the Coast Guard and face criminal charges in the nearest state.

I’ll say this – getting a BUI from the Coast Guard is more annoying than a BUI from a state, county, or local agency.

Will a BUI on a Kayak or Canoe Affect My Driver’s License?

In most states, a BUI will not impact your driver’s license. You can lose your driver’s license in some states (ex. Florida), though. It really just depends on the statutes of the state.

The penalties may also be more severe if you have a commercial driver’s license.

If you have a prior DUI, then the court will view it as your second BUI. Basically, the court makes no distinction between a DUI and a BUI.

Will a BUI Cause My Car Insurance Premiums to Increase?

A BUI should not cause your car insurance premiums to increase because it will not appear on your motor vehicle record. As usual, this does depend on the state. Sometimes a BUI may end up on your motor vehicle report in error.

Will Canada Deny Me Entry If I Have a BUI?

Yes. If you are convicted of misdemeanor (or felony) BUI in the United States, then you will be denied entry to Canada. And yes, Canadian border officials will conduct a check of your United States criminal record.

Thousands of Americans, and other foreigners, are denied entry to Canada each year because of relatively minor misdemeanors.

What Is the Difference Between BUI and BWI?

There is no legal difference between a BUI and BWI. The only difference is that BUI stands for boating under the influence. BWI stands for boating while intoxicated.

How to Avoid Getting a BUI on a Kayak or Canoe

The best way to avoid a BUI is to not drink too much alcohol while operating your vessel. It’s difficult, I know. However, the penalties for a BUI, especially with injuries, are very severe.

I recommend not drinking any alcohol while operating any vehicle – it’s just not worth it.

Hire a Lawyer

I highly recommend hiring a lawyer if you are facing BUI charges. A good lawyer can usually get you off with no jail time. Most often you end up with community service and probation. In some jurisdictions (and cases), they can even get you off with no criminal charges, but there are no guarantees.

It’s definitely worth the cost.

What to Do If Stopped for a BUI on a Kayak or Canoe

This really just depends on the state. Some states allow you to refuse the field sobriety test with no criminal penalty. In other states, you will lose your driver’s license if you refuse a field sobriety test.

I recommend consulting a lawyer about the BUI laws in your state if you want to start arguing with the police about a field sobriety test. You spend a night in jail if you don’t properly understand the law!

Final Thoughts

That covers everything you need to know about boating under the influence. It should be pretty clear:

You can get a DUI while on your canoe or kayak.

That means you would have to spend the night in jail – it’s basically the same crime as a vehicular DUI. And you might even lose your driving license.

I really don’t recommend drinking any alcohol or consuming drugs while operating any vessel on the water (or land) – it’s just not worth the risk. You’re also much safer without any drugs in your system.


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