Boating Under the Influence: Can you get a DUI on a SUP?
Having a beer on a warm day while you lazily paddle around a lake sounds like a fun time but could it get you into legal trouble? What exactly are the laws when it comes to paddling under the influence? Can you get a BUI (boating under the influence) on a paddle board and is it the same as getting a DUI while driving? I’ve looked into it and I’ll share what I found in this post.
First things first, I am not a lawyer, I am not your lawyer, this is not legal advice. I’m just an idiot who did some Googling so that he could figure out whether he could have a beer while paddle boarding (the answer was no). If you need actual legal advice on this or any subject, talk to a lawyer.
Can you get a BUI while paddle boarding?
The short answer is yes, you can get a BUI (boating under the influence, called a BWI in some places) while paddle boarding. For most states, the BAC limit for operating a boat is the same as the limit for operating a motor vehicle. For 48 states the BAC limit is 0.08. The two exceptions to this rule are Utah and North Dakota. Utah’s BAC limit for operating a boat is the same as for operating a motor vehicle in the state, 0.05. North Dakota has a higher limit for operating a boat than for operating a car. Their BAC limit for a BUI is 0.10. These laws change fairly often and a few states have lowered their BAC limits for boating in just the last few years so make sure to find the most up to date information yourself.
You can also receive a BUI for being under the influence of other drugs while operating a boat and in many states you can receive a BUI for drinking even if you are under the legal limit if you are not capable of operating your vehicle safely.
Non-motorized vehicles do seem to be exempt from BUI laws in a few states but there is a lot of conflicting info about this online and it is pretty hard to pick out which states interpret their laws to include non-motorized watercraft like paddle boards and which states exclude them. Any type of motorized boat is going to be treated the same, however. Even if you are just puttering around a lake with a trolling motor on your paddle board or canoe, you're going to be put in the same class as people operating a speed boat.
States vary on their open container laws for boats. Open container laws for boats are sometimes different between driving a car and operating a boat so make sure to look up the laws in your area. Some states, for example, allow open alcohol containers on boats so long as they are out of reach of the person operating the boat.
What are the penalties for a BUI?
Penalties for a BUI vary state to state but they will typically be pretty similar to the penalties that you would receive for driving under the influence. These penalties include fines, jail time and having your driver’s license suspended.
Who can cite you for boating under the influence?
It’s not just police officers that can cite you for a BUI. Most park rangers will have the ability to cite you as well. Whether you’re on Lake Powell or a remote river section, there’s a good chance that there will be a ranger not too far away that could cite you for a BUI.
Is drinking while paddle boarding dangerous?
Drinking while paddle boarding can be very dangerous. Drinking slows your reflexes, impairs your vision, affects your balance and impairs your decision making skills. These are all important factors in staying safe on a paddle board. Drinking while paddling will increase your risk of getting separated from your board while paddling or potentially even drowning.
Many of the dangers of paddle boarding while drunk are still at play even if you are not the one paddling. Make sure that you wear a life jacket and have sober friends around to help you if you fall off the board or get separated from the group somehow. Dehydration is another risk to consider when thinking about drinking while paddle boarding. Staying hydrated in the sun while paddle boarding can already be a challenge and alcohol makes staying hydrated even harder.
Exposure to the sun, the motion of the waves and other stimuli mixed with alcohol can cause you to become fatigued faster than you normally would from just paddle boarding or just drinking so be aware of that. Alcohol can impair your judgment and reduce inhibitions making you more likely to try activities that would be dangerous even if you were sober.
A good rule of thumb is that if you plan to drink, either don’t go boating or wait until you are done with your aquatic activities for the day before you do. If you have been drinking and want to go paddle boarding, make sure to leave enough time before your last drink and when you go boating to actually metabolize the alcohol in your system. Food, hydration and sleep can help some but most tricks to “sober up” like drinking caffeine, taking a cold shower or exercising may make you feel temporarily more alert but they won’t actually do anything to lower the alcohol content in your blood.
Alcohol and paddle boarding (or any sort of boating for that matter) do not mix well. Drinking while boating can result in legal ramifications that include losing your drivers license in certain states but more importantly than that, it’s just not safe.
If you want to check out some fun things you can do on your paddleboard without drinking, check out this post or our whole blog here! If you want to find some great paddleboards to take out this summer, check out this year’s lineup of inflatable paddle boards from Glide here.