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What to know about Missouri’s BWI laws

On Behalf of | Apr 23, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Some people who would never get behind the wheel of a car after drinking think little of operating a boat or jet skis after a few beers or other alcoholic beverages. The laws against boating under the influence, however, are every bit as stringent.

In Missouri, boating while intoxicated (BWI) involves having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher – the same as for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Under the law, “boating” encompasses virtually any kind of watercraft, including surfboards.

Authorities make far more BWI arrests than people often realize. It’s not until someone is seriously injured or killed that the public generally hears about them, though. For example, a man is facing multiple charges including BWI causing serious physical injury after his boat ran aground and crashed into a Lake of the Ozarks home last year. He and seven others were injured, and the home was damaged.

A first-time BWI charge in a case where no one is injured is typically a misdemeanor. However, the level of charge increases for those who have prior convictions and/or when there are injuries or fatalities. It’s possible to end up facing felony charges for this offense.

Being the only one not drinking can be a challenge

It can certainly be more tempting to drink while operating a boat than a car. Since it isn’t illegal for adults to drink on a boat as long as they’re simply passengers, a boat operator may be surrounded by alcohol. “Just a sip” can turn into far more than that.

As with driving, even if you’re operating a boat safely after a few drinks, it can be more difficult to avoid unsafe boaters. Judgment, vision, response time, coordination and more can be impaired. Even a few seconds’ lapse can mean the difference between avoiding a collision and not.

Understanding “implied consent”

It’s important to understand that by operating a vessel on any of Missouri’s lakes or rivers, a person is giving their “implied consent” to undergoing alcohol and drug testing by authorities if they have probable cause to believe that someone is under the influence or if they arrive at a sobriety checkpoint.

If you’re facing a BWI charge – even a first-time BWI, it’s critical that you take it seriously. Having experienced legal guidance can help you to protect your rights effectively, given the complexity of your circumstances and all that is at stake.