Boating Whilt Intoxicated (BWI) in Texas is treated the same way as Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) charges as far as punishments are concerned. Many people do not realize they are at risk for being charged with a BWI when operating their boat. It is important to realize that the same definition of inxoxication applies for both charges.
Texas Penal Code Section 49.06: Boating While Intoxicated
(a) A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a watercraft;
(b) Except as provided by Section 49.09, an offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor, with a minimum term of confinement of 72 hours.
The ramifications and consequences for charges of Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) are just as severe as those for DWI. However, a major distinction between a DWI and a BWI is the difference needed for an investigation to initiate.
With a DWI, the arresting officer initiating the traffic stop must be able to articulate a "reasonable suspicion" when pulling someone over. In other words, they can't initiate a traffic stop without some justification for doing so.
Texas law, however, does NOT require a police officer to reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop a boat operating on the waters of Texas. Most of the boating enforcement officers are allowed to conduct routine "safety" checks. These increase in nature and in quantity especially on holiday weekends.
Unlike in a vehicle, open containers of alcohol are not prohibited on boats. Therefore, passengers of the boat may be legally drinking while the driver is operating the boat. An officer who views passengers drinking on the boat may decide to initiate a safety check just to see if the driver is impaired. If the officers do suspect the driver of the boat is intoxicated, they usually will take them onto land to conduct the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST's). These tests can be skewed, however, because many times people have "sea-legs" and have difficulty completing the tests that is in no way attributable to alcohol consumption. Also, often people's face redden with sun exposure while on a boat, and the officers may attribute this incorrectly to alcohol consumption.
Thus, the likelihood of being arrested for a BWI charge if you are under investigation can increase significantly. There are a number of lakes in Texas where charges of BWI are routinely given, including Lake Texoma, Lake Lewisville, Lake Grapevine in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and Lake Austin and Lake Travis in the Central Texas area.
Penalties for BWI Penalties for BWI:
- First offense (Class B Misdemeanor): Fine of up to $2,000 and/or jail time of up to 180 days;
- Second offense (Class A Misdemeanor): Fine of up to $4,000 and/or jail time of up to one year;
- Third offense (State Jail Felony): Fine of up to $10,000 and/or jail time of 2-10 years.