Charleston has some of the most beautiful beaches and acclaimed fishing (in shore and off shore) in the country. Locals enjoy it every day. Our guests and tourists enjoy it for a few days or sometimes a week, if they’re lucky, while on vacation or business. Our rich history affords people the opportunity to actually sail in the Charleston Harbor and see a city that has not changed significantly since the Civil War. There is nothing like being on the water, especially here. However, whether you are drinking beer while fishing or toasting wine at sunset, it is easier than you think to suddenly be stopped and charged with “boating under the influence.”
Everyone knows that “driving under the influence (DUI)” is a very serious criminal charge, but so is “boating under the influence (BUI).” Boating statistics have determined that a person who has a blood alcohol content level (BAC) of .10% or higher is 10 times more likely to be seriously injured or die in a boating accident. And, it is not only risking their own lives but the lives of their passengers or others on or in the water as well. BUI is responsible for approximately 34% of fatal boating accidents each year. And that is why BUI is rapidly becoming a focus for law enforcement on the water just as DUI has been a primary concern by state troopers for years. If you are on the water and drinking, you will be affected by alcohol more quickly and intensely due to the hot sun, vibration of the engine, rocking of the boat on the waves, and even the reflections off the water. The nickname given is “boater’s hypnosis,” and many boaters experience it, especially in the very hot summer months. We all know and dread the hot summer months in Charleston. In addition to impairing your ability to operate a boat safely, it also makes you more vulnerable to falling overboard, becoming disoriented, and drowning. For these reasons, it has become a major public safety concern, and the laws have been amended to reflect the danger.
A BUI on the water is virtually the same as a DUI on land. Typically, a police officer will observe unsafe boating (speeding or erratic driving) and then signal you to stop your engines. The police boat will then pull along side your boat, and you will be asked a series of questions. The officer may also board your vessel and check for the presence of alcohol or drugs as well proper life vest equipment. He or she is investigating and building their case against you. Obviously, some of the more common field sobriety tests (walk and turn, one leg stand) are impossible on the water. However, other investigation tools including the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) and other “divided attention” cognitive tests that are available. The results of these tests will determine whether you will be arrested and then later subjected to breath testing. The same laws of “implied consent” that apply to vehicles also apply to boats and watercraft. And, if you are convicted or plead guilty to a BUI, you face the similar penalties as a DUI, including loss of boating privileges, fines, and possibly even jail time depending on the BAC level and whether there was an accident or injury involved. You can also expect your boating insurance rates to increase dramatically and never seem to come back down even years later.