As summer approaches, Vermont lakes and ponds are patrolled by marine law enforcement units from the U.S. Coast Guard, State Police, as well as local police. Many towns and sheriff’s departments that have lakes or ponds within their jurisdiction have police boats in order to detect boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs, commonly known as BWI or BUI.
It is a crime in Vermont to operate a “vessel” under the influence of intoxicating liquor or under the influence of a drug. See 23 V.S.A. § 3323(a)(2)+(3)Unlike the definition of a “motor vehicle” for DUI purposes, a “vessel” not only includes a motorboat, but also non-motorized water craft such as a sailboat or canoe. See 23 V.S.A. § 3302(12). Often times marine law enforcement officers will investigate a boating accident with an eye towards determining whether the captain or operator of the boat was operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, sometimes a police boat will stop a vessel if there is an issue with the watercraft’s lights, while operating at night, or simply for a Coast Guard safety inspection.
A distinction between BUI/BWI and DUI/DWI is found in the suspension period upon a conviction for a violation. For example, the suspension period for a first offense DUI is a 90 day suspension. However, the suspension period for a conviction of a first offense BUI/BWI is for one year. The reason for the distinction is probably found in the relatively short boating season in Vermont. If a boater were to be convicted of BUI in September, they would probably not be too concerned about not having their privilege to operate a boat suspended during the fall or winter months. Thus, a one-year suspension for a BUI/BWI carries the “penalty” over into the next boating season.
We recommend that no one drink and operate a boat at the same time. However, if you find yourself charged with BUI or BWI (these terms are often used interchangeably) please call criminal defense attorney Doug Kallen 24/7/365 at (802)598-7686.