Do You Know the Facts about Alcohol and Boating?

Alcohol and Boating: A Dangerous Combination

Everyone knows that oil and water do not mix; the same is true for alcohol and boating. With the warm weather boating season fast approaching, many boaters are thinking about getting back out on the waterways and are asking questions about the boating laws and regulations to see if there have been any changes. Not unexpectedly, the number one boating question pertains to equipment and license requirements, but surprisingly, the second most asked question pertains to alcohol use and consumption on Alabama’s waterways.
Just as Alabama law bans anyone from drinking and driving a vehicle (DUI), the law also prohibits anyone from boating under the influence (BUI). Specifically, it is illegal to be in physical control of any vessel (including personal watercraft), water skis, or any similar device if the operator:
  • Has a concentration of alcohol in his or her blood of 0.08% or more or
  • Is under the influence of:
    • Alcohol, any controlled substance or drugs or
    • Any combination of alcohol, controlled substances or drugs or
    • Any substance which impairs the operator"s mental or physical faculties.
Alabama law establishes the following penalties for those arrested and convicted of boating under the influence:
  • On the first offense, a fine from $600 up to $2,100 and/or sentence of one year in jail, and suspension of his or her operator's certification/license for 90 days
  • On the second offense, a fine from $1,100 up to $5,100 and/or sentence of up to one year in jail with a mandatory sentence of not less than 5 days or community service for not less than 30 days, and suspension of his or her operator's certification for one year
  • On the third offense, a fine from $2,100 up to $10,100 and/or sentence of up to 1 year in jail with a mandatory sentence of not less than 60 days, and suspension of his or her operator's certification for three years.
  • Anyone over the age of 21 convicted of BUI who has a child under the age of 14 present in the vessel at the time of the offense shall be sentenced to double the minimum punishment that the person would have received if the child had not been present on the vessel
If a person is suspected of operating a vessel on the waters of Alabama under the influence of alcohol or any other controlled substance, he or she must submit to a field breath test or other approved testing device for blood alcohol concentration. Refusal to submit to a field breath test, or other approved testing device, will result in the same punishment as provided in Alabama law for operators of motor vehicles on state highways.
Although the Alabama Marine Patrol Division encourages all boaters to leave the alcohol at home, boaters who wish to have alcohol on board must consider the fact that Alabama has both wet and dry counties (see map). Boaters should check to see if the waterway where they will be boating is in a wet or dry county.
A person boating on a body of water in a dry county is not permitted to have alcohol on board the vessel. On most bodies of water in wet counties, there is not an open container law and you may have alcohol on board for the passengers, but you should use a designated operator who will not be drinking.
Keep in mind that some waterways fall within city jurisdictions and may have additional city ordinances pertaining to alcohol use, open containers, and consumption. If you have any questions about a specific waterway, please call the Alabama Marine Patrol at 334-517-2950 or Email Alabama Marine Patrol