Reminder: Boating under the influence is illegal in Tennessee

For a lot of people, drinking and being on the water seem to go together. Unfortunately, that sometimes includes drinking by boat captains and pilots. If you’re in charge of driving a boat, you should be aware that it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Tennessee, including on federal waters. A boating under the influence (BUI) charge is much like a DUI.

What’s illegal

Under Tennessee law, it is illegal to operate any vessel subject to registration or any commercial vessel while you are under the influence of alcohol or any drug that could impair you. A person is presumed to be under the influence with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher.

On federal waters, which include the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and their tributaries, it is illegal to operate any vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Vessel includes every description of watercraft or object capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water, covering everything from canoes and rowboats to commercial vessels.

This is because alcohol and drug impairment can affect your judgment, balance, vision, coordination and reaction times, and it’s a major contributor to accidents and injuries on our waterways.

According to the Coast Guard, alcohol is more impairing when people are on the water. The motion, vibration, sun, wind and spray have been shown to accelerate impairment and cause fatigue. Boat operators — and passengers — can therefore feel the effects of alcohol quicker.

Additionally, most recreational boaters are less experienced driving a boat than driving a car because they typically don’t operate their boats every day. This means that it can be even more dangerous to be impaired by alcohol when operating a boat than when driving a car.

Penalties for BUI in Tennessee

In Tennessee, you can face serious consequences from a BUI conviction:

  • A fine of at least $250 up to $2,500, or up to $5,000 for a third offense
  • A jail sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days, with mandatory probation
  • Loss of your boat operating privileges for up to one year on a first offense

Additionally, we have an implied consent law, which means you automatically consent to a sobriety test when it is requested by law enforcement, and refusal to take the test can result in the loss of your operating privileges for six months.

Furthermore, you could face federal penalties if the offense takes place on federal waters.

At the very least, a BUI charge could ruin your relaxing day on the water and cause your boat to be towed in. At worst, it could cost you jail time, a large fine and loss of your boating privileges. If you are arrested, talk to an experienced lawyer right away.

Skip to content