Boating Under the Influence in Colorado

Denver DUI attorney Jay Tiftickjian was a live guest on 9News Colorado on Sunday, August 4 to discuss Colorado Boating Under the Influence law.

Operation Dry Water is a national campaign that takes place during the last weekend of July. Last weekend, Denver iJournal reported that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff contacted 1,646 vessels and more than 5,000 boaters, issuing 36 citations and 430 safety warnings over the three days last weekend, including one BUI arrest. The same source stated there have been nine BUI arrests this year up until last week.

Colorado Revised Statute § 33-13-108.1 makes it a misdemeanor for a person to operate a boat, or any other vessel, while under the influence of alcohol or any drug, or when the amount of alcohol in the person’s blood or breath measures 0.08 at the time of operating the vessel or within two hours after. C.R.S. § 33-13-108.1 (1)(a)(I), (1)(a)(2). This law is similar to Colorado’s DUI statute in Title 42. For instance, the BUI law contains an express consent provision, C.R.S. § 33-13-108.1(4)(a), which means that if an officer has probable cause that the person is operating a boat under the influence, the officer may request a person submit to a chemical test to determine alcohol or drug content. If the person’s BAC result is at or above 0.08, a legal inference may be made that the person is under the influence of alcohol, and details the penalties for a conviction under the statute. See C.R.S. § 33-13-108.1(12). The BUI statute does not (yet) include a 5 nanogram THC inference like was just passed and included in the DUI statute, but it is likely only a matter of time until one is included. Regardless, being under the influence of any drug, even prescribed, is illegal if it affects your ability to safely operate the vessel.

The penalties for Boating under the Influence (BUI) are the same for DUI, which means an offender can face up to one year in jail and up to $1,000 of fines plus mandatory court costs and surcharges for a first offense. In addition, a first BUI carries a minimum 5-day jail sentence, but this minimum jail may also be suspended if the offender participates in a state-mandated alcohol and substance-abuse evaluation and an education and therapy program, which is also the same as in the DUI statute. In addition, a court could impose probation, public service, and any other alternative available under the DUI statute.

Boating under the influence causes a three-month revocation on operating a vessel. A second offense causes a one-year ban. Note a “vessel” is defined under Colorado law as pretty much anything that you can operate on the water. It doesn’t need to be a motorized boat, but also includes jet skis, canoes, etc… Also note that the legal definition of “operating” is pretty open. Idling a boat on open water would still be considered operating, even if the boat isn’t moving or if the engine is off.

Also, it is a misdemeanor for the owner of a boat to allow an intoxicated person to operate it, § 33-13-108.1 (13)(a), and allowing someone to do so could cause a jail sentence to the owner of up to one-year (no minimum sentence) and up to $1,000 in fines.

Finally, there are no driver’s license consequences for a BUI conviction or for refusing to take a test in a BUI case. Title 42, which contains all of the driver’s license consequences for Driving under the Influence, mandates that a motor vehicle must be involved for the Department of Revenue to get involved with a driver’s license revocation action, like it would in a DUI case.