Texas Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) Law – Penal Code 49.06

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 What Is BWI in Texas?

Under Texas boating laws, it is illegal to operate any type of watercraft while under the influence of alcohol. Boating under the influence (BUI), or boating while intoxicated (BWI), refers to engaging in this activity after consuming alcohol or drugs.

Similar to a DUI, BWI involves an individual operating a boat as opposed to a motor vehicle. In Texas, driving while intoxicated is a Class B misdemeanor that is punishable by a minimum of three days incarceration and a maximum $4,000 fine.

Texas also has laws making flying while intoxicated a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a three-day incarceration term and $4,000 in criminal fines. All states have drunk driving laws that help protect motorists, passengers, and the public from impaired drivers operating their automobiles on public streets and highways.

The federal government and states have also passed laws prohibiting the operation of boats and other types of watercraft while intoxicated. BWI laws are enforced by regional law enforcement agencies and the Coast Guard.

What Do Texas Laws Define as a “Watercraft”?

In the State of Texas, a watercraft includes:

  • A vessel;
  • An aquaplane device used to carry or transport people on a boat;
  • Water skis;
  • Anything else that usually moves through a water current.

BWI Laws: Why Are They Important?

According to the United States Coast Guard, alcohol can be more dangerous on the water than on land because of potentially disastrous outcomes. The mental and physical capabilities of a boat operator while on the water may be impacted by many different circumstances, including:

  • Heat;
  • Sun;
  • Noise;
  • Sea waves;
  • Wind;
  • Glare;
  • The motion of the boat; and
  • Other variables.

When these variable conditions are combined with alcohol and drugs, an individual’s capacity to properly handle a boat is significantly compromised.

What Is the Texas Penalty for BUI?

In Texas, BWI is classified as a Class B misdemeanor. If convicted, a defendant could be punished criminally by:

  • Three days in jail minimum, with a potential sentence of 180 days in county jail;
  • $2,000 in criminal fines;
  • Both the fine and county prison terms.

If an individual is facing BWI charges in Texas, they should consult with a local attorney in Texas to determine what penalties they may face.

What Is the Fine for Operators Who Are Convicted of BWI for the First Time?

Most first-time BWIs are categorized as Class B misdemeanors, as noted above. However, it is important to note that if a first-time offender injures or kills another individual, they may face:

  • Serious physical harm to another, or an intoxication assault, is a third-degree felony that is punishable by two to ten years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000;
  • Death, or intoxication manslaughter, is a second-degree felony with up to $10,000 in fines and a maximum jail sentence of 20 years.

In addition, the consequences will be more severe if the victim was a peace officer, firefighter, or member of the emergency medical services who was doing their duties or if they suffered a catastrophic brain injury that left them in a permanent vegetative condition.

Penalties for BWI on a Second Offense

If a defendant has previously been convicted of a DWI or BWI, the BWI will count as their second offense. A second BWI is typically considered a Class A misdemeanor and is by up to $4,000 in criminal fines and up to one year in jail.

BWI Penalties for a Third Offense

A third BWI will be classified as a third-degree felony if the individual has two prior DWIs or BWIs. If an individual is convicted of a third offense, they may face two to ten years in jail and criminal fines of up to $10,000.

Suspensions of Licenses

Any boater who operates a vessel with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level over 0.08% risks having their license suspended. Depending on whether the defendant received a license suspension due to alcohol or drugs during the previous ten years, the suspension time will be either six months or one year.

How Can I Lower My Chances of Getting a BUI Arrest?

It is essential for all individuals to take safety precautions when they are boating to reduce the chances of injury. A boat operator will be held responsible for any harm or damage that occurs because of negligence or recklessness.

The Coast Guard suggests that boaters:

  • Have a designated boat operator who is sober;
  • Bring a variety of beverages, such as water, iced tea, or lemonade, to stay cool;
  • After consuming alcohol, wait a decent amount of time before starting the boat again;
  • Due to the likelihood that drunk passengers would lose their balance, operate the boat safely; and
    Avoid bringing any alcohol.

Boat Captains May Be Falsely Accused of or Detained for BUI

Marine law enforcement officials may set up BWI checkpoints where they examine boats to determine if operators are legally qualified to operate them. The standardized field sobriety tests that boat operators must pass when they are suspected of being intoxicated can be a controversial part of a BWI case.

Boat operators who have spent several hours in the sun may appear to be impaired when they actually are not. There are some symptoms that may be mistaken for alcohol intoxication, such as:

  • Sunburn or reddened skin as a result of sun exposure;
  • Not being able to balance on the boat deck because of the current of the water;
  • Glare from the sun and wind, causing red eyes;
  • Vomiting and nauseous from seasickness; and
  • Delirium or dizziness brought on by excessive sun exposure-related dehydration.

An individual’s attorney can examine the results in the BWI report to determine if an individual was charged with operating a boat while intoxicated. A lawyer may be able to disprove these assertions by demonstrating how the defendant’s appearance was mistaken as intoxication.

A Defense Attorney Can Examine Your Arrest

BWI charges can be brought against an individual even if they are not the skipper. However, an individual may be able to have their charges lowered or dropped if the arrest or charges against them were illegal or if they were not the owner or driver of the vessel.

A BWI attorney can contest the arrest and have the charges dropped if a defendant’s constitutional rights were violated while they were being detained or questioned. A defense attorney can provide a wide range of services to aid their clients in fighting charges against them, including, but not limited to:

  • Examining the facts of the case;
  • Presenting proof to back up the defendant’s statements regarding the alleged crime;
  • Examining and disputing the prosecution’s arguments and supporting evidence;
  • Speaking with witnesses;
  • Educating the defendant on their rights and possible punishments as well as whether they should accept a plea bargain; and
  • Defending their client in court, a hearing, or a plea bargain.

Should I Speak to a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney About My BUI Charge?

If you are facing BWI charges in Texas, it is essential to consult with a Texas DUI/DWI lawyer as soon as you can. These can be very serious criminal charges that are challenging to defend.

Your lawyer can advise you of the penalties you may be facing based on your prior criminal history. Your attorney may be able to disprove the charges against you or negotiate with the prosecution for a reduction in the charges against you.


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