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Do South Carolina’s open container laws apply to boaters?

For many people, there might be nothing more relaxing than going for a boat ride on a hot summer day. At the same time, legal adults may want to enjoy a cold beer or cocktail out on the water. While this may sound like an attractive leisure activity, there may be potential legal questions that arise as a result of consuming alcohol on a boat.

Many people might be aware that it’s illegal to have an open container of liquor, wine or beer in the interior of a vehicle. If a person must transport open alcohol, it must be stowed away in the vehicle’s trunk or cargo area. Known as open container laws, a person could face a citation, in addition to drunk driving charges, for violating this particular law.

Although open container might be pretty clear as they apply to motor vehicles on the state’s public roads, the same might not be said about watercraft. 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.

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.

At the same time, just because there is a specified legal limit, cops may still push boating under the influence of alcohol charges on someone who appears to be impaired but doesn’t meet or surpass the 0.08 percent limit.

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s easy to understand how a person could wind up with legal concerns. Spending a few hours in the intense sun — while consuming alcohol — could cause a person to get impaired faster than he or she might expect.

Of course, alcohol-related offenses can be very complex. As such, this post should be viewed as a brief look into some of the issues surrounding drunk boating, rather than specific legal advice.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, “Open Container and Open Consumption of Alcohol State Statutes,” accessed April 14, 2014

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