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Intoxicated Boating in West Virginia

Did you know that just like you’re not allowed to drive when you’re drunk, it’s also illegal to operate a boat while under the influence in West Virginia? So, if you’re planning to hit the lake or river, it’s important to have a designated driver on board.

Under Chapter 1547.11 of the West Virginia Code, it is stated that operating or being in control of watercraft (such as boats, aquaplanes, water skis, and similar crafts and devices) is prohibited if you have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher, or if you’re under the influence of alcohol, drugs of abuse, or a combination of both.

If the person operating the watercraft is under 21 years old, the acceptable BAC content drops even further to 0.02 percent.

Now, you might be wondering what exactly constitutes drugs of abuse. According to the law, drugs of abuse include any medication that can impair a person’s reflexes or judgment. This encompasses a range of substances, such as dangerous drugs (LSD, meth, heroin, marijuana, cocaine), as well as prescription drugs and controlled substances.

Even over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can affect your ability to operate a boat. Allergy medicines, cold and cough medicine, and sleep aids are just a few examples of OTC medicines that can slow down your reflexes or impair your judgment. It’s crucial to remember that consuming alcohol alongside these medications can amplify their effects, potentially leaving you too intoxicated to safely operate a boat.

When Can My Boat Be Stopped? 

Unlike stopping a car, law enforcement officers from the Coast Guard and other agencies are authorized to stop your boat at any time, with or without reasonable suspicion, and without a warrant. They can conduct safety equipment inspections and evaluate the boat operator for signs of intoxication. Additionally, local police officers, county sheriffs, and state troopers also have the authority to stop you if they suspect a safety violation or an intoxicated operator.

Keep in mind that while passengers are allowed to consume alcohol as they please, the boat’s operator must remain completely sober at all times.

Definition of “Boat’s Operator”

Unlike driving a car, identifying the person in charge of a boat can be tricky. Multiple people may take turns operating it or even abandon ship for a mid-lake swim. In such cases, the boat owner is typically deemed responsible by the Coast Guard or other officials, and their sobriety may be tested alongside everyone else’s.

What Are the Penalties for Drunken Boating in West Virginia?

For a first offense of boating while intoxicated, the intoxicated operator faces a fine ranging from $150 to $1,000, as well as a jail sentence of 3 days to 6 months. Subsequent offenses carry the same fine, but the jail time escalates to 10 days to 6 months. In case of a third offense, the operator may be subjected to a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of 30 days to 1 year.

Similar to West Virginia’s implied consent law for automotive drivers, boat operators implicitly grant consent for chemical testing simply by being at the helm. Denying the test results in a one-year suspension of their ability to operate or register a watercraft.

In West Virginia, the only boat licenses issued are for commercial purposes like pleasure cruises or fishing. If you’re using a boat for recreational activities, whether it’s your own or borrowed, you don’t need a license, and thus it cannot be taken away.

It’s important to note that a boating while intoxicated conviction won’t affect your driver’s license for land vehicles.

Facing a boating while intoxicated charge? Ease your worries by enlisting the help of a Wheeling WV criminal attorney. Mountaineer Criminal Law Group specializes in OVI law and is available 24/7 to assist you. Reach them at (304) 381-3656.

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