Is it Illegal to Drink and Drive a Boat in Wisconsin?

Updated by Stangl Law on April 7, 2023

red and white boat in still lake surrounded by forested mountains

Short answer: Yes. Just like drunk driving, operating a motorized boat is illegal if your blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit. In Wisconsin, if your BAC is .08 percent or higher, you can be charged with intoxicated boating.

The next question is usually this: Is it illegal to have open containers on a boat at all?

It's not illegal to have an open container on a boat, so simply having alcohol doesn't in itself give law enforcement a valid reason to "pull you over."

Here are the two relevant Wisconsin Statutes you can read for yourself:

According to these Statutes, a first offense BUI or violation of the refusal law can bring a fine of up to $300. A second offense within five years of a prior boating-related charge can mean fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Third offense BUI can mean fines up to $2,000 and possibly a year in prison.

Whether you’re a state resident or a visitor, mixing any kind of motor vehicle activity with our state’s strong drinking culture can turn a fun afternoon out on the water into a dangerous situation both legally and otherwise. 

Wisconsin's waterways are not outside of the law. A relaxed attitude around drinking and boating is exactly what makes intoxicated boaters prime targets for conservation wardens and police patrols who regularly scan the waters for signs of suspicious drivers.

In 2019, 132 boaters were cited for boating under the influence of alcohol in Wisconsin. Law enforcement devoted more hours to boating activities than ATVs and snowmobiles combined.

Law enforcement often conducts field sobriety tests on patrol boats with boaters seated. These FSTs can include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, which tests for involuntary jerkiness in the eyes, the Finger to Nose test, the Palm Pat test, and the Hand Coordination test.

Below, we've answered the common questions about "boating under the influence" or BUI in Wisconsin and what to do if you or someone you know is facing charges.

Read Also: Boating Under the Influence in Wisconsin: What You Need to Know

How Does BUI in Wisconsin Relate to OWI or DUI?

Like drunk driving, the operation of a motorized boat is illegal if your blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit. In Wisconsin, if your BAC is .08 percent or higher, you could be charged with intoxicated boating.

If you’re caught driving a boat over the legal limit in Wisconsin, you’ll likely face the same consequences you would if you were driving drunk on the road.

Just like on land, boaters can’t have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or above. Anyone found breaking this law can face fines, have their boat impounded, or even face jail time.

  • The one exception to this rule applies to commercial motorboats. Commercial boat operators face stricter restrictions and must maintain a BAC below .04 percent.

Although it happens far less on water than it does on land, boaters are subject to the same kind of alcohol and drug testing by authorities. Simply by operating a boat or other kind of watercraft, you’ve legally given consent to this testing.

Read more about what tests are used to determine boating under the influence here.

What Are the Penalties for Boating Under the Influence in Wisconsin? 

According to state Statutes, a first offense BUI in Wisconsin is also referred to as a violation of the refusal law. This carries a penalty of $150-$300 in fines.

If you’re arrested again for BUI within five years of your first offense, second offense penalties range from $300-$1000 fines and possible jail time. These penalties increase in severity with subsequent offenses.

Unlike OWI, boating under the influence offenses do not affect your boating or driving privileges, however, you may be required to complete an Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment and provide a certificate of satisfactory completion of a boating safety course if one is ordered by the court.

What to Do if You’re Facing BUI Charges in Wisconsin

If you’ve been charged with boating under the influence anywhere in the state, it’s important to contact a skilled Wisconsin OWI Attorney as soon as possible. 

Click or tap here for a free consultation with Wisconsin OWI Attorney Pat Stangl.

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Aggressive Criminal Defense Since 1991

Working across the state, Wisconsin Defense Attorney Pat Stangl has been defending clients charged with intoxicated boating, drunk driving, drug charges, battery, and all types of criminal offenses for over 30 years. 


If you'd like to learn more about Attorney Stangl, review his record of success.

FREE 10-Minute Consultation

If you've been charged with boating under the influence, drunk driving or another alcohol-related crime in Wisconsin, Attorney Pat Stangl is happy to extend to you at no obligation a FREE 10-minute consultation to discuss your case and explore options for your defense. Simply click below to request your free consultation.

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Topics: Drunk Driving Charges (OWI), Drug Charges



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