TACDL
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Tennessee Bar Association
National College of DUI Defense
iapp
DUI Defense Lawyers Association

Booze Cruise to BUI

Booze Cruise to BUI

It is summertime in Music City and many of you across Tennessee are ready to hit the water. When you load up the cooler with your favorite brews and seltzers, make sure you pack a few waters and sodas for the designated driver. Why? Because in Tennessee you can be charged with boating under the influence, which is governed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-9-217.

What Does it Cover?
  • Any vessel that requires registration
    • Mechanically powered vessels such as boats and jet skis
    • Vessels with a trolling motor
    • Sailboats
  • Commercial Vessels, which are vessels hired for the primary purpose of carrying passengers or to transport goods or services.
What is the Rule?

You cannot operate one of the above mentioned vessels while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If your blood alcohol concentration at the time of operation is .08%, this creates a presumption that you are impaired.

Implied Consent

Similar to operating a motor vehicle, there is an implied consent law for people who operate vessels in public waterways. By virtue of operating a boat or vessel as defined by the statute, you impliedly consent to blood, breath, or urine tests. In order to request a test, the officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that the person operating the vessel is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The officer also has a duty to inform you of the consequences of refusing to submit to one of the tests. If you’re properly informed of the consequences and still refuse to submit to one of the tests, the court will suspend your privilege to operate a vessel for 6 months.

What are the Legal Consequences?

A conviction for a first offense is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 11 months and 29 days in jail and a fine. Starting July 1, 2021, the law will change and require convicted persons to serve mandatory jail times. The mandatory minimums for BUI are the same required by the DUI statute. For example, a conviction for a first offense will require the person to serve a minimum of 48 hours in jail.

Unlike a DUI, a BUI conviction should not affect your driver’s license. However, a conviction may affect your privilege to operate a vessel on public waterways.

What about Canoeing, Kayaking, or Paddle Boarding?

This law specifically does not apply to vessels that use an oar or paddle. However, one can still be charged with public intoxication or simple possession (if one possesses some other intoxicant, such as marijuana).


*Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-9-217 applies to public waters of Tennessee. Private or federally owned waterways may be subject to different rules and regulations.