California Harbors & Navigation Code 655
Think of “Boating Under the Influence” (BUI) as the lesser known, but just as troublesome, cousin of DUI; it’s a lot less common, but it is still a crime.
In Long Beach, California, like the rest of the State, a conviction for BUI could lead to:
• Fines, AND
• Jail or Prison, AND
• Court-ordered DUI school
Law Enforcement Officers from the Coast Guard, Long Beach Police, Los Angeles County Sheriff, and Orange County Sheriff are on the lookout for BUIs in the most popular local recreational water-sport areas and eager to make arrests. Areas like Long Beach Harbor, Los Angeles Harbor, Rainbow Harbor, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, and the Catalina Channel are just some of the areas where officers are always on BUI patrol.
It’s not uncommon for BUI charges in Long Beach to be filed against innocent people; recreational boaters who have been falsely arrested and/or wrongly accused of BUI. It is absolutely essential that you REMAIN SILENT and consult with an attorney who has experience with California's Under-the-Influence laws immediately upon your arrest.
What is Boating Under the Influence?
Under California Harbors and Navigation Code, there are several laws that regulate boating and drinking and they are very similar to the better known DUI statutes.
Harbors and Navigation Code §655(b) states: “No person shall operate any vessel or manipulate water skis, an aquaplane, or a similar device while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.”
Harbors and Navigation Code §655(c) states: “No person shall operate any recreational vessel or manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or more in his or her blood.”
Harbors and Navigation Code §655(d) is equivalent to the Commercial Driver DUI Law: “No person shall operate any vessel other than a recreational vessel if the person has an alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent or more in his or her blood.”
Unlike California DUI laws, open containers of alcohol on a boat are legal. Both passengers and drivers of boats and other water equipment are permitted to have and consume alcohol so long as the operator remains unimpaired and below the legal limit for BAC.
How Does the Prosecutor Prove a BUI case?
For the prosecution, proving a BUI case is essentially the same as proving a DUI case.
To convict you under California's BUI laws, prosecutors will rely on:
1. The manner in which you drove a boat or maneuvered on water skis, an aquaplane, or similar equipment,
2. Your physical appearance (red/watery eyes, slurred speech, unsteady gait, etc.), otherwise known as "objective signs and symptoms of intoxication,"
3. Your performance on the field sobriety tests (FSTs), and
4. The results of a chemical blood or breath test.
Boating “Under the Influence” of Alcohol
For boaters who are charged with BUI under California Harbors and Navigation Code §655(b), the prosecutor will need to prove that you operated a boat, water skis, an aquaplane, or other similar equipment while you were under the influence of alcohol (and/or drugs).
If the chemical blood or breath test reveals you’re your BAC was less than 0.05%, the presumption is that you were NOT under the influence of alcohol at the time of your arrest.
However, if the tests determine that your BAC was 0.05% to 0.07%, the finder of fact (either judge or jury) must decide whether you were, in fact, under the influence; that is whether you were feeling the effects.
Finally, if your BAC, based on the chemical analysis, was 0.08% or higher, it is presumed that you were under the influence of alcohol at the time of your arrest – even if you felt perfectly sober.
BUI with a BAC of 0.08% or higher
For boaters who are charged with BUI under California Harbors and Navigation Code §655(c), conviction requires proof that you were specifically operating a boat, water skis, an aquaplane, or other similar equipment with a BAC of 0.08% or greater. It does not matter whether you were or were not feeling the effects of the alcohol to be convicted under this code section.
This is a far more serious charge that requires proof that you were under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and while operating a boat, water skis, an aquaplane, or other similar equipment, you broke a law (in addition to boating under the influence), or otherwise drove in a negligent manner and caused injury to another.
Manslaughter while BUI
Even more serious still, this charge alleges that you committed a simple or aggravated California BUI while you committed an additional negligent or grossly negligent act (not amounting to a felony), and your negligence caused the death of another.
Although California BUIs are prosecuted in much the same manner as DUIs, the penalties vary significantly and you still face a jail or prison sentence as well as heavy fines.
A first-time BUI Misdemeanor could get you up to six months in a county jail, a maximum $1,000 fine plus penalties & assessments, and required California DUI School.
No DMV Suspension
Unlike DUI, the California DMV will not revoke or suspend your driver's license following a BUI conviction like it routinely does in connection with DUI convictions.
As you might imagine, the more serious the charges, the more serious the penalties become.
No Motor, No Problem
California Harbors and Navigation Code 655 “boating under the influence” only applies to motor-propelled boats or motor-propelled pulled equipment.
Therefore, if you are under the influence while operating a device that is exclusively self or water propelled, such as a kayak, canoe, raft, paddleboat, rowboat, or non-motorized sailboat you are exempt from prosecution under California's BUI laws. However, you are still subject to the Drunk in Public laws.
The Bottom Line
While BUI laws may seem somewhat more lax than those for DUI, the consequences are every bit as real; the jail time and fines are very, very real. Just like DUI, innocent people are falsely arrested and wrongly accused of BUI all the time.
If it happens to you or someone you love, don't ever assume that you can't fight your BUI charge! Always consult an attorney.