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

Updated by Attorney Stangl on May 15, 2021

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.

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.

Below, we've answered the common questions about BUIs 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 would 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 be hit with 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 privileges, however, you will 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 here for a free consultation with Madison and Northwoods OWI Attorney Pat Stangl.

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Aggressive Criminal Defense Since 1991

Working from both his Madison office and Hayward, 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.

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Working from both Madison and Hayward, OWI Defense Attorney Pat Stangl has been providing skilled and dedicated defense statewide for clients for over 30 years.

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 15-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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