Texas BWI

Boating While Intoxicated

In the latest round of government attacks on privacy and freedom, comes our ability to travel the waters in Texas in a boat without interruption of police, coast guard or Texas Game Wardens. In Texas, law enforcement needs no reason to stop you while on the water. It does not matter that you have a fire extinguisher, more than enough life jackets, current registration and card, and all other legal and safety necessities on board your boat. Law enforcement can stop you to check that you have all the safety equipment at any time they choose. Yes, they can stop you twice in one day, one weekend or one month. You may be stopped by different law enforcement officers in the same day. Boating at one time was one of the true freedoms of our society. You could travel the water from sun up until sun down and go wherever you wanted, usually as fast or as slow as you want, all the while uninterrupted from other boaters, traffic, stoplights and intrusion from law enforcement. That was then, but things are different now on the water.

A sunset on Lake Livingston, it does not get much better, except with a beer or cocktail. The infamous sunset cruise on Lake Livingston and other Texas waters is one of life's luxuries, until you are stopped for a water safety check. Once the game warden sees that cocktail, do not worry about the fire extinguisher; suspicion of Boating While Intoxicated is now the focus. A BWI arrest on Lake Livingston can end up in one of four counties: San Jacinto, Walker, Polk or Trinity. Polk County advertises a zero tolerance BWI policy on Lake Livingston. A BWI arrest on Lake Conroe will end up in either Montgomery County or Walker County, most likely Montgomery County as most of the lake is in that county.

In coastal counties, the odds of being stopped are even higher due to a multitude of different law enforcement agencies patrolling coastal waters such as the sheriff's patrol, game warden or coast guard. All these agencies make random stops for not only water safety checks, but also for game inspections and border security. The increased law enforcement presence and reason to stop boaters in Chambers, Galveston, Brazoria, Matagorda , Calhoun, Aransas, Nueces, San Patricio, Nueces, Kleburg, Kenedy, Willacy and Cameron counties lead to an increased risk of a BWI arrest.

How Serious Is A Boating While Intoxicated Arrest?

Can a BWI arrest affect my driver's license? A BWI arrest is very serious because it affects your driver's license, driving privileges and potentially your car insurance, not to mention any criminal conviction on your record will have an impact on something in your future.

Unlike a DWI that requires a police officer to observe an illegal act, Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) does not require law enforcement to observe any abnormal or illegal behavior. They can simply stop any and every boat on the water looking for potential BWI cases. Just as with DWI, it is legal to operate a boat after consuming alcohol so long as the operator is not intoxicated, but what is different than DWI is the increased likelihood of an officer suspecting a sober person on the water is intoxicated. Think about the different elements involved while boating, such as being in the direct sun, constant movement of the boat, relaxed attitude of being on the water, and the likelihood of a fellow passenger having an alcoholic beverage in their possession. All of this leads to increased suspicion of intoxication, even though it is legal to have an open container in a boat and normal to be more relaxed while on the water.

While that initial suspicion is troubling, the water sobriety tests are even more troubling. There are not any standardized field sobriety tests that can be performed on the water. So law enforcement uses an array of abnormal finger touch and counting tests that do not distinguish between intoxication, coordination or wit. Some people can count backwards from 67 to 56 whether they have been drinking or not. Some people can say their alphabet starting at G and end promptly at T without hesitation, others cannot. This is true regardless of whether or not they have consumed alcohol. Some people are extremely coordinated with their hands and fingers, while others or not. Bottom line, if you have trouble doing any of these unpracticed and abnormal tasks for the officer, you will be transported to shore for additional testing. In their words, you will be detained for additional testing; in reality, you are arrested. After this initial arrest, you will be given a chance to prove your sobriety by performing standardized field sobriety tests on shore. After a 15-minute period to lose your sea legs, you have to walk a line and stand on one leg. The truth is it does not matter how well you perform on these tests, they will request a breath or blood specimen once you are done.

At the time law enforcement requests a breath or blood specimen, a BWI becomes the legal equivalent of DWI. Even though you are not required to have a driver's license to operate a boat, a BWI arrest has the same effect on your driver's license as a DWI. If you refuse to provide a sample of what the officer requests (either breath or blood), your driver's license will be suspended for 180 days up to two years if you do not request an Administrative License Revocation hearing. I recommend you hire a lawyer to make the request for you because the Department of Public Safety does not overlook technicalities such as grammar or spelling errors. Depending on the error, it could be used to deny you a hearing. Do not request a hearing, call a lawyer immediately and let the expert request the hearing.

Hire A Lawyer Experienced With Not Only BWI Cases, But Also Boating

You want a lawyer that has been out on the lake where you were arrested. You want a lawyer that understands boating — how to operate a boat, what is required in a water safety check, etc. Would you hire a lawyer that does not know how to drive a car? What about a lawyer that has not driven in Texas? These are all questions that you should ask a lawyer before making a decision.

Law enforcement would like you to believe their increased manhood, increasing water safety checks, and increasing fish and wildlife checks are all designed to keep us safe or protect wildlife. However, being on the water has not all of a sudden become unsafe. There are more than 580,000 registered boats in the state of Texas, ranking it sixth in the country. In 1999, there were 157 BWI arrests compared to 318 BWI arrests in 2010, but there were over 614,000 registered boats in 1999. No one wants unsafe boaters, especially drunk boaters, on our waters, but we do not want to be overzealous toward the boaters who have consumed a few beers while fishing. If you are charged with BWI in Texas, find a lawyer with experience in BWI cases. The tests and environment are inherently unfair, and every BWI arrest should be heard by a jury of your peers. As a fellow boater, we must stand up to increased infringements on our freedom, and the only way to do that is to fight back. I am a BWI lawyer with 10 years of experience defending intoxication offenses and 25 years of experience driving boats in every type of water from inland rivers and lakes to the waters of our coast.