If you enjoy boating, Ohio offers plenty of opportunities for you, from the Ohio River to the thousands of lakes and rivers, including one of the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie. There are numerous reasons for boating, such as fishing or simply enjoying a nice day on the water. And whatever the reason for boating, it is often accompanied by the consumption of alcohol.

Because of the openness of the water, it is easy to forget that operating a boat under the influence of alcohol contains many of the same dangers as operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OVI). In addition, there are other dangers, like the risk of drowning, that are not present when driving a car. As a result, boating under the influence (BUI) is a serious offense, with similar consequences to OVI.

Different Requirements for a Stop

Unlike operating a vehicle, an officer may stop a person boating and inspect the boat, even if the officer has no suspicion that a violation of the law has occurred. Under federal law, “the Coast Guard may make inquiries, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests upon the high seas and waters over which the United States has jurisdiction, for the prevention, detection, and suppression of violations of laws of the United States.” The law further gives the Coast Guard the authority to board any vessel and examine, inspect, and search the vessel. During the inspection, the officer may request the operator of the boat to submit to a sobriety test if he or she has a reasonable suspicion that the operator is intoxicated.


Under Ohio law, it is illegal for a person to operate or be in physical control of any vessel or to manipulate any water skis, aquaplane, or similar device on the waters of Ohio if the person has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. It is also illegal if the person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them. Under federal law, a person is liable to the U.S. government for a civil penalty if he or she is under the influence of alcohol, or a dangerous drug in violation of a law of the United States when operating a vessel.


BUI is a first degree misdemeanor, with a potential jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to $1,000. In addition, like for OVI, there is a mandatory three day jail sentence, though this may be avoided if the offender is admitted into a three day certified driver intervention program. Unlike OVI, there is no automatic driver’s license suspension. As a result, it is possible that a BUI conviction will not impact a person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle.

Alternatively, if the Coast Guard issues a Notice of Violation, the case may be heard under a civil penalty proceeding, with a potential fine of up to $5,000. It is important to note that the Coast Guard may also transfer the offender to the custody of state or local authorities.

Boat Safely

Getting out on a boat is often times a great experience. But, it is important to remember that you are driving a machine that can be very dangerous if not operated correctly and carefully. It is important to always drink responsibly, even when you are on a boat.