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Understand South Carolina's BUI laws before hitting the water

Summertime heat is on the way, and South Carolina residents might be making plans for the coming months. For those who own a boat or intend to operate one in the coming months, it may be essential to understand how boating under the influence laws are similar or different from land-based violations.

The reality is that some people might enjoy having an alcoholic beverage while aboard a boat. Although South Carolina's open container laws don't necessarily include watercraft, boat operators could still face charges for being intoxicated.

According to state law, it is illegal to operate a motorized watercraft -- or even a sailboat -- while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The law indicates that charges can be filed if a person's ability to operate a motorized or non-motorized boat is materially or appreciably impaired. Again, this is a case in which a person could be charged for BUI, even if a breath test doesn't provide a reading of 0.08 percent or higher. Rather, the violation could come as a result of a law enforcement officers personal judgment.

South Carolina statute also sets forth the consequences for being convicted of BUI. First-time offenders are subject to the following penalties:

  • A fine of $200.
  • Jail time ranging from 48 hours to 30 days.
  • The judge can also order the individual to complete 48 hours of community service instead of time behind bars.
  • Inability to operate a watercraft for six months.

Additional convictions only raise the stakes for punishment. For example, a second BUI offense could cause a person to be imprisoned for up to one year, which is obviously a major burden.

A final item to keep in mind is how prior charges for driving a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol could impact a BUI case. Depending on the circumstances, a person could be considered for especially stringent penalties upon conviction.

Source: WestLaw, SC Code 1976 § 50-21-112

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