Boating While Intoxicated

Experienced New York Boating While Intoxicated Lawyers

The 2006 death of Tiffany Heitkamp, due to an intoxicated boater, inspired New York to toughen up its BWI laws. Previously, Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) was treated as an offense less serious than Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Penalties have now been equalized so that BWI is now just a serious an offense like DWI.

Red Boat

In New York, there are offenses for boating while impaired or intoxicated by alcohol which parallel the same offenses for operating a motor vehicle. For example, it is unlawful to operate a motorized vessel on water when impaired by the consumption of alcohol. Boating While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (BWAI), is a violation only and not a criminal offense. To be found guilty of BWAI, all that has to be shown is that your ability to operate a motorized vessel as a safe and prudent operator is impaired, to any extent.

Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) is proven when it is shown that the operator of a motorized vessel operates such vessel while in an intoxicated state. Intoxication is presumed when a vessel’s operator is shown to have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.08% or more. This is proven by a chemical test of a person’s breath or blood, just like DWI on land. Also like DWI on land, BWI may also be proven, regardless of the BAC measurement, by proof that the operator’s ability to operate a vessel in a safe and prudent manner was substantially impaired by alcohol. BWI, no matter what theory it is proven by, is a crime which carries a potential sentence of up to one year in jail or three years of probationary supervision.

Boating While Ability Impaired by Drugs (BWAI Drugs) is also a misdemeanor offense. Like DWAI Drugs on land, all that need be proved by the prosecution in a BWAI Drugs case is that the operator of a motorized vessel had consumed drugs and that his or her ability to operate the motorized vessel was, as a result, impaired to any extent. Even a slight bit of impairment to operating ability, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt, may be sufficient to convict someone of misdemeanor BWAI Drugs, subjecting such a person to potentially one year in jail.

Multiple offenses for any of the above carry with them the potential for enhanced penalties and, in some instances, may result in charges being elevated to felony level. For any of the above, a conviction can result in the suspension or revocation of your privilege to operate a motorized vessel in New York.

Where BWI Arrests Happen

A New York BWI arrest is most likely to happen in and around the waterways that are most popular with boaters, including:

  • Lake George
  • Lake Placid
  • Great Sacandaga Lake
  • Schroon Lake
  • Mirror Lake
  • Tupper Lake
  • The Hudson River
  • The Mohawk River
  • Saratoga Lake

You can be arrested for BWI on any public waterway, however. If you have been arrested call our New York Boating While Intoxicated Attorneys.


The penalties for operating a boat under the influence of intoxicants in New York are as follows:

  • Alcohol BWAI: A fine of up to $500 and jail time of up to 15 days for a first offense, plus loss of your boating license for 6 to 12 months.
  • BWAI Drugs and BWI: A fine of up to $1,000, jail time of up to one year for a first offense, plus loss of your boating license for 12 months. A second offense of BWI or BWAI Drugs is a felony if the second offense is committed within 10 years of the first conviction.

Penalties for all of the foregoing offenses increase substantially for repeat offenses. Contact our knowledgeable New York Boating While Intoxicated Lawyers.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I be arrested for BWI for piloting a non-motorized boat such as a rowboat?
No. BWI and the related offenses mentioned above apply only to boats that are partially or fully motorized. Depending on your behavior, however, you might be arrested for another offense such as reckless endangerment.

What is the ‘lookback period’ for BWI and related offenses?
The lookback period is how long the court will look back to determine if you are guilty of a second or further offense. The lookback period is five years to convict you of a second offense and ten years to convict you of a third offense.

Will I lose my automobile driver’s license due to a BWI conviction?
No – your boating license will be at risk, not your automobile driver’s license. Although you must note: the New York legislature is currently considering a bill that would change this state of affairs. A BWI could, however, get you convicted of second-offense DWI if you are convicted of DWI in the future, and this could result in a lengthening of the period of your driver’s license suspension.

I was arrested for BWI for the first time, but I have a previous DWI. Will my BWI be treated as a second offense?
It depends on how long ago you were arrested for DWI. The court will consider any DWIs you have been convicted of during the “lookback period.” If you have one previous DWI from three years ago, for example, your BWI will be treated as a second offense. Furthermore, your BWI conviction can be used against you in the same way if you are convicted of DWI in the future.

If You Are Charged, Don’t Wait!

E.Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy also represents clients with the following criminal charges:

BWI is a crime in New York, and the consequences of a conviction can extend far beyond the surface of the water. You need assistance now. Missing a deadline in a criminal prosecution or responding in a weak fashion is downright dangerous. The New York criminal justice system is set up for combat, and it rewards those who skillfully fight for their rights

At E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy, you can expect to be treated with respect, integrity, and exceptional professionalism.

If you have been arrested or charged with BWI, contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation by phone (518) 284-3183 at our offices in Albany, Troy, Schenectady, and Saratoga Springs, with our New York Boating While Intoxicated Lawyers.

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