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Boating While Intoxicated: How Alcohol Use Spoils "Fun In The Sun"

Fun, recreation, and alcohol

Most everyone is familiar with the offense of driving while intoxicated. But did you know that, in Iowa, there is also an offense of boating while intoxicated (BWI)? It makes sense, if you think about it. Boating is a much-loved summer tradition in this state. But with the fun and recreation comes the danger of alcohol use and its consequences.

It should be remembered that alcohol can reduce reaction time, as well as the ability to make sound and quick judgments in emergency situations. Also, alcoholic effects are multiplied by movement on the water, sun (including sun glare), and wind.

Criminal offense

Under Iowa Code, it is unlawful to operate a sailboat or motorboat while intoxicated while on the navigable waters of the state (which includes any navigable water except privately owned lakes or farm ponds); that is, under the following conditions:

  • "While under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of [the same].
  • "While having an [blood] alcohol concentration of .08 or more.
  • "While any amount of a controlled substance is present in the . . . person's blood or urine."

Operators who appear impaired may have to take tests administered by a law enforcement officer in order to determine the operator's sobriety. An operator who refuses to take a test may be subject to a penalty.

Penalties for violating this law depend upon the classification of the offense, which ranges from serious misdemeanor, to aggravated misdemeanor, to Class "D" felony, which in turn depends on whether it is a first-time violation, a second violation, or a third or subsequent violation. Each classification carries different terms of imprisonment and fine amounts, as well as other penalties.

Tougher laws?

Boating while intoxicated is a serious offense. In fact, some law enforcement officials of the Department of Natural Resources have gone on the record as saying they would like even tougher laws on alcohol use.

The Iowa Legislature partly addressed this concern in 2011 by lowering the blood alcohol limit for boat operators from .10 to 0.08, the same limit that is imposed on highway drivers. Despite this, some enforcement officials claim that it is inconsistent that operators of boats are allowed to drink while driving (which motor vehicle operators cannot do), and also that open containers can be present in boats (which is illegal in motor vehicles).

The DNR supervisor stationed in northeast Iowa was quoted by The Gazette in 2012 as saying, "Boating and alcohol do not mix. I think it would be great if boaters could not drink at all." As of 2012, though, the DNR had no plan in the works to ask for a change in statutory boating laws. Instead, a spokesperson said that educational campaigns were going to be used.

In 2011, according to the DNR, as reported in The Gazette, citations were issued to 54 boaters for boating while intoxicated, while 38 boating accidents were recorded. Of the 23 boating fatalities that were recorded for the years 2006 through 2010, only 13 involved alcohol.


If you are going to go boating in Iowa, have fun, but keep in mind, too much drinking and driving do not go together. If, however, you are cited for boating while intoxicated, remember that being accused of a crime is not the same thing as being convicted of a crime. You are still entitled to a vigorous defense, one that can be provided to you by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

  • The Iowa State Bar Association
  • DUI Defense Law
  • AAJ
  • Iowa Association of Justice

Keegan, Tindal, & Jaeger 

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  • J. Dean Keegan
  • Eric D. Tindal
  • Andrea D. Jaeger
  • J. Dean Keegan J. Dean Keegan


    Decades of Award-Winning Legal Service J. Dean Keegan was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa. After high school, Dean served ...
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  • Eric D. Tindal Eric D. Tindal


    Highly Rated Criminal Defense in Iowa City Eric D. Tindal, attorney at Keegan, Tindal & Jaeger, graduated from the University ...
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  • Andrea D. Jaeger Andrea D. Jaeger


    Experienced Criminal Defense in the Iowa and Illinois Quad Cities Andrea D. Jaeger practices in the areas of white collar ...
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Protecting Your Freedom & Rights
  • Operating While Intoxicated Charges Dismissed

    Linn County OWCR133760. Attorney Eric Tindal's client was arrested for Operating While Intoxicated. Mr. Tindal had all charges dismissed following a successful suppression hearing regarding the grounds for the stop.

  • Possession with Intent to Deliver Marijuana and Methamphetamine Charges Dismissed

    Washington Count FECR5351. Attorney Tindal and Attorney Clemens Erdahl successfully argued that evidence of drug manufacture was obtained in violation of the Constitution. All charges were dismissed.

  • Possession with Intent to Distribute Charges Dismissed

    Iowa County FECR010358. Attorney Tindal was able to show the Court that his client was detained in violation of his Constitutional rights and that the K9 utilized in the search was unreliable. Following hearing all charges were dismissed.

  • Second Degree Sexual Abuse and Other Charges Acquittal at Trial

    Johnson County FECR089277. The Defendant was charged with Second Degree Sexual Abuse and other charges. Following a one-week trial by Mr. Tindal, the Defendant was acquitted of all charges.

  • Sexual Abuse in the 2nd Degree Conviction Reversed on Appeal

    Iowa Supreme Court No. 04-361. The Defendant was convicted of Sexual Abuse in the 2nd Degree. On appeal, Mr. Tindal successfully argued that the conviction was based on improperly admitted evidence. The conviction was reversed.

  • Trafficking Stolen Weapons and Misdemeanor Theft Charge Dismissed

    Scott County FECR384046. The Defendant was charged with Trafficking Stolen Weapons and Misdemeanor Theft. The Court dismissed the felony following a Motion litigated by Mr. Tindal. The Defendant subsequently pled to the remaining misdemeanor.

  • Vehicular Homicide Charges Reduced

    Johnson County FECR68296. The Defendant was charged with Vehicular Homicide. Following a suppression hearing, Mr. Tindal and his co-counsel were able to show that the blood test result was taken in violation of implied consent procedures. The case was subsequently resolved for a misdemeanor.

  • First Degree Murder and Child Endangerment Causing Death Acquitted of First Degree Murder at Trial

    Henry County FECR005634. Attorney Tindal’s client was charged with First Degree Murder and Child Endangerment Causing Death. Following a two week trial, the Defendant was acquitted of all charges.

  • Operating While Intoxicated Reduced to Public Intoxication

    Johnson County OWCR116811. The Defendant was charged with Operating While Intoxicated. Mr. Tindal was able to win the Iowa Dept of Transportation appeal and have the blood test result thrown out. The case was resolved for a public intoxication charge and no loss of license.

  • Operating While Intoxicated Second Offense Reduced to Public Intoxication

    Washington County OWIN010946. The Defendant was charged with Operating While Intoxicated Second Offense. Following long negotiations with the State the Defendant was able to plead to a Public Intoxication and have his driving privileges reinstated.


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