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New Drinking While Boating Laws in Place for Michiganders in 2015

Mark J. Mandell, Esq.

As we approach summertime and warmer weather, Michiganders will soon flock to their cottages and their boats. Michigan actually has one of the highest rates of boat ownership per capita in the nation.

And this year, tougher laws are in place for “Boating Under the Influence” (BUI).

Last year, boaters could operate a watercraft with a BAC of 0.10. However, with legislation passed and signed into law in last year’s lame-duck session, the new BAC limit on the water will mirror the 0.08 BAC limit on the roads.

The other changes include:
  • Prohibiting a person from operating a motorboat with any amount of controlled substance in their body.
  • Prohibiting a person under 21 years of age to operate a motorboat with anybodily alcohol content.
  • Increased penalties for alcohol and controlled substance violations if a person younger than 16 years of age is also in the motorboat.

Penalties were formerly lighter on the water as well. However, boaters who violate these laws on the water will also face stricter penalties, similar to those drivers face on the roads.

And have you ever stopped to think, “Is it really legal to drink while driving a boat?” If you’ve been a spectator at Jobbie Nooner at Lake St. Clair, MI, surely this thought might have crossed your mind at some point.

The short answer is, yes. It is lawful to drive a boat with an open container of alcohol. But you have to be careful not to cross the line, especially with these stricter laws. When you’re out in the sun all day, just a few drinks could get you to that 0.08 threshold quickly if you don’t hydrate with water. And just like on the roads, there’s implied consent on the water.

Under implied consent on the water, when you get behind the wheel of a boat you are considered to have consented to a BAC test. Even if you don’t take a breathalyzer test, you can still be detained and taken back to shore if you appear to be disorientated, confused, smell of alcohol, or were driving recklessly.

It’s also important to note that these laws not only apply to boats. Jet skis, kayaks, canoes, and any other type of water craft that can be used for transportation fall within the reach of these laws.

It is also unlawful for the owner of a vessel to allow anyone else to operate their vessel if that person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

So if you and your family head out on the water this summer, as many Michigan families do, boat safely and drink responsibly. A few Corona and limes on a nice summer day could get you into more trouble than you think if you’re not careful. 

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