Garden State DWI Update: Reviewing the Penalties for a Boating While Intoxicated Conviction

Quite frequently during course of the summer it is not uncommon for New Jersey DWI and drug DUI defense attorneys to receive numerous inquiries regarding the validity of a BWI summons, better known as a boating while intoxicated offense. The fact that the bulk of these kinds of charges crop up during the warmer weather is hardly surprising given the marked increase in boaters and recreational fishermen who take to the waters off of the Jersey Shore, as well as on the inland waterways throughout the Garden State.

As Monmouth County DWI-DUI lawyers, we understand fully the confusion that surrounds a BWI arrest or issuance of a summons related to intoxicated boating. While most people understand that driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs is a serious offense when on New Jersey roadways, many find it somewhat difficult to equate the seriousness of drunk driving to the operation of a watercraft.

One of the possible trains of thought is that there are fewer boats on the water than cars on the turnpike, so why should drinking a little alcohol while piloting a powerboat be such a serious matter? Another rationalization could be that boats don’t travel as fast as cars, so collisions, if they occur, should be less dangerous. Unfortunately, New Jersey law enforcement agencies, as well as the state’s legislators, feel much more strongly about the dangers of drinking while operating a boat. Either way, the fact remains that BWI is a chargeable offense and a potentially costly one as well.

When speaking to potential clients, my colleagues and I are usually asked what the worst-case penalties are for a first-time BWI conviction. Starting at the low end of the scale, BWI offenders who have been proven to have had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of at least 0.08 percent (but less than 0.10 percent), the defendant will usually be facing fines ranging from 250 to 400 dollars, depending on the discretion of the judge. This is in addition to court costs, which can add another 10 percent or so. Plus, there is a $50 assessment for the Victims of Crime Compensation Board (VCCB).

At the high end of the scale, for a first-time offender, fines following a conviction for BWI range from $300 to $500 (for BACs of 0.10 percent or more). Similarly, court costs will usually be added, as will the VCCB assessment. But the relative pain of a monetary fine may pale in comparison to the potential loss of driving privileges. You read that right; contrary to what some people may believe, a conviction for operating a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol will not only affect someone’s boating license, but also his or her driver’s license as well.

For many individuals this IS the worst-case scenario. The possibility of losing one’s license for a period of time due to a BWI may have been a deterrent when considering a drink or two while behind the controls of a powerboat or other watercraft; however, since it’s safe to say that if a fair percentage of people don’t think twice about drinking alcohol while piloting a boat, they most certainly have little idea of the dilemma that a BWI conviction will pose on their ability to legally drive on Garden State roadways in the foreseeable future.

The license suspension period for an individual convicted of BWI (in cases involving a BAC of between 0.08 and 0.10 percent) is three months, as well as a boating license suspension of 12 months. For those who were caught with a BAC over 0.10 percent, the motor vehicle license suspension period starts at seven months and could be as long as 12 months. Boating license suspension remains at one year, however.

As skilled DWI defense attorneys, my legal staff is aware of the legal options when approaching a BWI offense. Mitigating factors, such as the so-called “step down” doctrine, which applies to BWI as well as DWI, should all be considered when facing an intoxicated boating charge. This is why it is imperative that anyone who has been issued a summons for BWI or DWI consult with a qualified legal professional with expertise in DWI and BWI law.