Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) - LAKE OF THE OZARKS

It is illegal to operate a boat on the Lake of the Ozarks with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.  It is not only illegal to operate a boat while intoxicated, it is also illegal to operate a Wave Runner, Sea Doo, Jet Ski or any other motorized watercraft while intoxicated.  If the watercraft is propelled by human power, like a paddle boat or row boat, then the boating while intoxicated law does not apply. 

A boating while intoxicated case is commonly referred as a BWI.  The BWI law is very unique and quite different from a DWI.  The major difference between a BWI and DWI is that the BWI Law does not require an officer to have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop a watercraft operating on the waters of the Lake of the Ozarks in Miller, Morgan, Camden or Benton Counties.  Water Patrol Officers may board your boat at any time for safety and security reasons.  This is very different from a DWI.  If you are operating a car on the roadways around the Lake of the Ozarks, including in Lake Ozark, Osage Beach, Camdenton or Eldon, to name a few, a policeman cannot pull you over unless he has Probable Cause that you have committed a crime.  Probable Cause could be obtained by observing your vehicle speeding or crossing the yellow line or crossing the white fog line.  Once an officer has Probable Cause that you have committed a crime the officer can legally pull your vehicle over.

This requirement for Probable Cause before a stop may be made is not required in a boat.  The Water Patrol can stop your boat and check for life jackets.  If an officer pulls your boat over to check for life jackets and smells alcohol on your breath an investigation for suspected BWI may begin.  An officer could see you and your friends drinking a few beers while enjoying the Lake of the Ozarks and come over to investigate.  Drinking a beer or any other alcohol while boating is not illegal it only becomes illegal if you operate the boat after becoming intoxicated.  But, if an officer sees you consuming alcohol, it is evidence that may compel the officer to investigate you for BWI.

If you get pulled over or stopped and there is suspicion that you have been drinking alcohol, the officer will ask you to perform sobriety tests.  These standard field sobriety tests are very difficult to perform after being out on a boat all day.  It is sometimes difficult to pass these tests even if you are sober.  It can be difficult because most people are tired from boating, wake boarding and water skiing all day.  Being on the water, where the boating is moving up and down, can impact your balance and walking ability.  Being on a boat can throw off your equilibrium and make it difficult to pass the balance and walking portions of the standard field sobriety test.  Your face maybe red due to sunburn.  Your eyes maybe bloodshot due to the lack of sunglasses or glare off the water.  Keep in mind, If the officer conducts field sobriety tests on an uneven/ moving dock, the test will be even more difficult and may lead to your arrest.  You have the right to refuse to perform all field sobriety test and all breath tests an officer would request you to perform.  The officer must have probable cause to believe you are intoxicated before the officer can arrest you for Boating While Intoxicated.  Without these tests, it can be difficult for a prosecutor to make a case since it is not illegal to drink alcohol and operate a boat.  It is only illegal to operate a boat while legally intoxicated. 

What are the Penalties for a BWI?

Missouri law establishes the following penalties:

  • Those convicted of boating while intoxicated are guilty of a Class B misdemeanor upon a first conviction.  In addition, those convicted will be required to complete and pass an approved boating safety course.  A Class B misdemeanor can be punished by a jail term up to 6 months in jail and/or a $500.00 fine.
  • Upon a second conviction, a person is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.  A Class A misdemeanor can be punished by jail term of up to 1 year and/or a $1,000.00 fine.
  • Upon a third or subsequent conviction, a person will be guilty of a Class D felony.  A Class D felony can lead to a prison term of up to 4 years and/or a fine not to exceed $5,000.00. 
  • A person boating while intoxicated who causes the death or serious injury of another person will, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony.

If you get arrested for BWI contact our office at 573-302-0897 for a free consultation to discuss your Boating While Intoxicated case with a qualified attorney.

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DWI – DUI - BWI - Boating While Intoxicated - Driving while intoxicated, Driving under the influence, Speeding tickets, Traffic tickets - Lake of the Ozarks Missouri, Osage Beach, Camdenton, Miller County Morgan County, Eldon, Lebanon, Sunrise Beach, Laurie, Versailles – Missouri, MO

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