Boating Under the Influence In South Carolina

The BUI Laws in South Carolina

Boating while impaired by alcohol or drugs is illegal in South Carolina just as it is illegal to drive a car while drunk. Section 50-21-112 of the South Carolina statutes specifies "operation of moving motorized water device or water device under sail while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol to the extent that the person's faculties are materially and appreciably impaired." The statute also clarifies that a "drug" may be legal or illegal, or may be a combination of alcohol and a legal or illegal drug.

What are the Open Container Laws in South Carolina?

Be safe and avoid boating under the influence on South Carolina lakes and rivers

While the law is clear in regard to operating a boat while impaired, that still leaves questions related to the use of alcohol and the presence of open containers on boats. Specifically:


  • Can you have open alcohol containers on a boat in South Carolina?
  • Can you drink while boating on a South Carolina lake?

We've previously addressed this topic in a blog post and noted:

"South Carolina law doesn't expressly prohibit open containers of alcohol on boats within the state. Presumably, this means that the occupants of a boat can enjoy a beer as they enjoy cruising on a lake or river.

[However], just because a person might be able to have an open container of alcohol on a boat doesn't mean that drunk driving laws don't apply. Much like the laws that apply to drivers on land, boat operators face a legal blood-alcohol content limit of 0.08 percent.

Always be responsible and stay safe while having fun on the water."

Penalties & Consequences of Boating Under the Influence in South Carolina

Penalties for boating under the influence in South Carolina

If you have been charged with boating under the influence (BUI) of drugs or alcohol in South Carolina and are convicted, you face:


  • First offense: A fine of $200 or imprisonment for 48 hours or more. Public service can take the place of imprisonment.
  • Second offense: Penalties rise to $2,000 to $5,000 and imprisonment between 48 hours and one year. Ten days or more of public service may take the place of imprisonment.
  • Third offense: These subsequent convictions may result in fines of $3,500 or more and imprisonment lasting 60 days to three years.

A conviction on drunk boating charges can also have the same types of devastating long-term effects as a drunk driving conviction. These include:


  • Driver's license suspension
  • Difficulty obtaining employment or housing
  • Potential professional discipline or loss of professional licenses
  • Stigma and shame
  • Long-lasting negative consequences to career and other areas of life

If you've been arrested on suspicion of BUI, know this: you have options, and we can help. At Drennan Law Firm,  we are prepared to take up the fight on your behalf. We have experience handling all types of difficult DUI/BUI cases in the Charleston area, and have helped clients throughout the region keep BUI charges from ruining their lives.

Know How Alcohol Affects Your Boating Abilities

A man who knows not to drink and boat

When you are out on the water, you might want to have a few drinks with your friends. Before you do that, you should know that you can face criminal charges for boating under the influence. You should also know that just because you can usually have a specific number of drinks and are fine, that might not be the case on the water because alcohol can affect you differently when you are out on the lake in a boat.


The natural effects of being on a boat can induce fatigue, which is also known as boater's hypnosis. The vibration of the boat, motion of the waves and exposure to the sun can all have these effects. Alcohol will intensify these effects, so you likely won't be able to consume as much alcohol as you would on land before you start to become impaired.


Your reaction time is likely going to be slower after you have been drinking. As you know, it isn't possible to stop your boat on a dime in the water. You need to have as much time and mental capacity as possible if you have to make an evasive maneuver while driving the boat.


Alcohol can also affect your balance, which could mean that you are at an increased risk of falling overboard. It can also affect your judgement, which could cause you to take risks you would normally avoid.


All of these are very good reasons to save the alcohol for a time after you dock your boat and won't have to drive anywhere. If you end up facing drunk boating charges, be sure to explore all of the options you have for a defense.

3 Reasons to Avoid Boating Drunk

Avoid boating under the influence in Charleston Harbor

Just about everyone loves to head out on the water in the summer months. The breeze is fantastic, and it's a great time to spend an afternoon with your family and friends. Perhaps you like to go out on your own and go fishing or prefer to take a tour in the evening to go dolphin watching. Whatever it is you like to do when boating, this is the season to enjoy it.


One problem with boating is that some people believe it's safe to drink alcohol and drive a boat. That could not be further from the truth. The reality is that much like any other vehicle, a boat has the potential to crash and malfunction. A driver who is impaired won't be able to respond to an emergency in the way he or she should, and could cause a serious crash on the water. Here are three other reasons to avoid getting drunk while at sea or on a lake.

1. You'll Get Dehydrated Quickly

If you're not drinking water and are spending time in the sun, it's more likely for you to become dehydrated. Combined with the risk of intoxication, you're more likely to suffer symptoms like headaches or disorientation, which could put you in danger.

2. You Could Cause a Crash

This is a serious reason never to drink behind the wheel of a boat. When you're boating, you're not alone on the water. Even though the waterways are more freeing and have more space to travel, it's likely that you'll come across other boaters. Some will have larger vessels, and others will have small, personal vessels. The last thing you want to do is to hit someone or to have someone hit you. By avoiding alcohol, you'll be in a better position to avoid causing or becoming part of a crash.

3. You Could Lose Your License (and Suffer Penalties)

Finally, remember that a boat is still a vehicle, so you can get a BUI if you drive drunk. Boating under the influence is a crime similar to driving under the influence. Boating while intoxicated increases the risk of fatalities by up to 34 percent, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, so you can be penalized for doing so with fines or the loss of your boating license. You could even go to prison if a crash results in a person's death.


Avoiding alcohol when you're boating is a good idea. By playing it safe, you'll enjoy time on the water without the fear of repercussions.

Boating Under the Influence Defense Strategies

The boating under the influence defense strategy you choose can have a big impact on your case. Our lawyers can help you to look into the options that you have so that you know what you might do.

Decide on the Purpose

Our South Carolina boating under the influence lawyers need to determine the purpose of your defense. This can be challenging but it is a crucial part of your plan. If you know for a fact that you weren't drunk while you were boating, you might work to prove that you were innocent. If you know that you were drunk, your focus might be to minimize the penalties. In either case, you should make sure that you aren't delaying your defense by putting off getting started.

Look into the Circumstances

A look into the circumstances surrounding your arrest can let you know how you are going to proceed. You need to try to find points in the prosecution's defense that you can question. Each question you raise might put you one step closer to the goal of your case. Remember that you have to be convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, so raise all the doubt you can.


We know that you might need to get some questions answered. We can answer your questions, help you to learn what options you have for your defense, and develop a strategy for your drunk boating defense case.

Contact a Charleston BUI Attorney for a Free Initial Consultation

Stop worrying about what to do and get your boating DUI case underway as soon as possible. Contact us by phone or email to request a FREE initial consultation with a Charleston, South Carolina boating under the influence lawyer with no further obligation.