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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, & Mason 

Put Over 50 Years of Combined Trial Experience On Your Side 
  • J. Dean Keegan
  • Eric D. Tindal
  • Andrea D. Mason
  • 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 & Mason, graduated from the University ...
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  • Andrea D. Mason Andrea D. Mason


    Experienced Criminal Defense in the Iowa and Illinois Quad Cities Andrea D. Mason practices in the areas of white collar ...
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SUCCESSFUL results for our clients

Protecting Your Freedom & Rights
  • Operating While Intoxicated Record Expunged

    Johnson OWCR106890. Attorney Dean Keegan's client received an Operating While Intoxicated, a serious misdemeanor. After reviewing the videos, Mr. Keegan filed a Motion to Suppress arguing the officer denied his client's right to make a phone call. The State declined to present testimony at the hearing and the Motion to Suppress was granted, making the client eligible for a deferred judgment. Mr. Keegan's client will have her record expunged and be able to obtain a license after 90 days instead of 180.

  • Drug Charge Charge Dismissed

    Johnson County No. OWCR039210, Iowa City, Iowa. Attorney J. Dean Keegan conducted a three-day long suppression hearing which presented the first challenge to the "Drug Recognition Protocols" used in Iowa.

  • Embezzlement No Criminal Charges Filed

    Cedar Rapids, Linn County, Iowa. An employee of a Cedar Rapids business accused of embezzling six million dollars was not charged criminally after the County Attorney agreed to abide by an agreement negotiated by Attorneys J. Dean Keegan and Jerald Kinnamon in which the accused would pay two million dollars to the company.

  • Vehicular Homicide Charge Dismissed

    Johnson County No. FECR058630- Iowa City, Iowa. Attorneys J. Dean Keegan and Jerald W. Kinnamon successfully challenged the withdrawal of blood from a Defendant without his permission after a rollover accident in which a passenger in the vehicle was killed.

  • Vehicular Homicide Charge Dismissed

    Muscatine County No. FECR03718 - Muscatine, Iowa. If convicted of the vehicular homicide while intoxicated, as alleged in this case, the Defendant would have faced the possibility of a 25-year prison sentence, 17 years of which would have to be served before he would be eligible for parole. Following the depositions of the investigating officer and consultation with an accident reconstruction expert, Attorneys J. Dean Keegan and Jerry Kinnamon negotiated the dismissal of Vehicular Homicide as part of a plea

  • OWI Charge Dismissed

    Johnson County No. OWCR083001 - Iowa City, Iowa. Attorney J. Dean Keegan alleged that the Defendant's rights to contact a lawyer or family member may have been violated after his arrest. He requested video of the breath test from the arresting officer to support his allegation. When the officer failed to produce the video evidence in response written requests, a subpoena, and a Motion to Compel, the State conceded the issue and dismissed the offense.

  • OWI Acquittal at Jury Trial

    Johnson County No. OWCR077717- Iowa City, Iowa. Acquittal at jury trial of a defendant accused of Operating While Intoxicated who refused a breath alcohol test. Tried by Attorney J, Dean Keegan.

  • OWI Case Overturned

    State v. Hornik, Segura, et. al.Iowa City, Johnson County, Iowa. When the state of Iowa established that the Datamaster breath testing machine could be used to test subjects being investigated for OWI, it failed to establish a protocol for its proper use. Attorney J. Dean Keegan, in conjunction with the Johnson County Public Defender's Office, mounted a challenge to the use of the machine based on the lack of uniform instructions for its operation.

  • Zero Tolerance Driver's License Revocation Zero Tolerance Driver's License Revocation Overt

    Iowa Dept. of Inspection and Appeals Docket No. 08DOTOW3937. Attorney J. Dean Keegan successfully challenged a "Zero Tolerance" license revocation on the basis that the officer had failed to allow the driver to contact a family member or attorney for legal advice before submitting to the test.

  • OWI 2nd Offense Charge Dismissed

    Muscatine County No. OWCR040280 - Muscatine, Iowa. After Attorney Dean Keegan scheduled the deposition of the State's expert witness in this case, he learned that the breath test was inappropriately administered by the arresting officer. The State dismissed the offense outright and agreed that the breath test result should be inadmissible so the Defendant would not face the proposed one-year administrative revocation of her driver's license.


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