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. A boating OWI can remain on your record for life, even if you do not face the maximum penalties.

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 result in a fine of up to $300.
  • A second offense within five years of a prior boating-related charge can result in fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
  • A third offense of BUI can result in fines of up to $2,000 and possibly a year in prison.

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 timeThe 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 the tests 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, if the court orders one, you may be required to complete an Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment and provide a certificate of satisfactory completion of a boating safety course.

Additional Penalties and Requirements

  • For commercial license holders, the legal limit is stricter at a BAC of 0.04% or higher. In the event of a first offense, your license can be revoked for 6 to 9 months. A second offense results in a 12 to 18-month revocation, and a third offense leads to a 24 to 36-month revocation.
  • For minors and those under 21, Wisconsin law allows drinking with parents, but the same BAC limits apply to operating a boat. Underage individuals not operating the boat may be in the clear.

FAQs About BUI in Wisconsin

What is the legal BAC limit for boating in Wisconsin? In Wisconsin, the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for operating a boat is 0.08% or higher for recreational boaters. For commercial boat operators, the legal limit is stricter at 0.04% or higher.

What are the penalties for a first-offense BUI in Wisconsin? A first-offense BUI in Wisconsin can result in a $150 to $300 fine. Additionally, you may be required to complete an Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment and a boating safety course.

Do BUI offenses affect my driver's license in Wisconsin? No, BUI offenses do not affect your driving privileges on land. However, you may face penalties specific to boating, such as completing an Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment and a boating safety course.

Can minors be charged with BUI in Wisconsin? Yes, minors can be charged with BUI if they are operating a boat with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. While underage drinking with parents is permitted under certain circumstances in Wisconsin, the BAC limits for operating a boat still apply.

What happens if I refuse a breathalyzer test while boating in Wisconsin? Refusing a breathalyzer test while boating can result in additional penalties, including fines and the requirement to complete an Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment and a boating safety course.

Are there specific areas in Wisconsin where boating DUIs are more common? Yes, common areas for boating DUIs in Wisconsin include Okauchee Lake, Whitewater Lake, Lake Beulah, Pewaukee Lake, Nagawicka Lake, Lac La Belle, Lake Michigan, and the Milwaukee River. However, a BUI can happen anywhere.

Can I have open containers of alcohol on my boat in Wisconsin? Yes, it is not illegal to have open containers of alcohol on a boat in Wisconsin. However, operating the boat while intoxicated is illegal, and having open containers may draw the attention of law enforcement.

What are the penalties for multiple BUI offenses in Wisconsin? Penalties for multiple BUI offenses increase in severity. Second offense: $300 to $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. Third offense: $600 to $2,000 fine and up to 1 year in jail. Additionally, subsequent offenses may lead to longer license revocations and mandatory completion of an Alcohol and Other Drug Assessment and a boating safety course.

Can I challenge a BUI charge in Wisconsin? Yes, you can challenge a BUI charge. Potential defenses include questioning the reliability of sobriety tests conducted on the water, the accuracy of the BAC measurement, and whether the stop was conducted legally.

How long does a BUI charge stay on my record in Wisconsin? A BUI charge in Wisconsin can remain on your record for life, even if you do not face the maximum penalties.

What should I do if I'm charged with BUI in Wisconsin? If you're charged with BUI in Wisconsin, it's important to contact an experienced OWI attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case and explore your defense options. If you’ve been charged with boating under the influence, drunk driving, or another alcohol-related crime in Wisconsin, contact Attorney Pat Stangl for a free 10-minute consultation to discuss your case and explore your defense options.

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

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

Sobriety tests conducted on boats can be unreliable due to the movement and waves affecting balance. The prosecution must provide irrefutable evidence of inebriation, and a skilled defense can introduce reasonable doubt.

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.

New Call-to-action

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.

New Call-to-action