Is it legal to drink on the water or while boating in Kentucky?

For many people, alcohol is a natural part of relaxing or celebratory activities. If you will be out on the water, however, you should know that it's against the law to operate a boat or vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. That includes personal watercraft, water skis, surfboards and similar devices.

Moreover, by operating a boat or vessel on Kentucky waters, you're legally considered to have consented to drug and alcohol tests to determine whether you are under the influence. A law enforcement officer can administer such tests upon determining there is probable cause to believe that you have been operating while intoxicated.

Just as with a land-based DUI, the legal limit for alcohol while operating a boat or vessel in Kentucky is 0.08 percent. You can also be convicted of boating while intoxicated (BWI) if you are impaired by any substance. The penalties for BWI are as follows:

  • First offense: a fine of $200 to $250
  • Second offense: a fine of $350 to $500
  • Third or subsequent offense: a fine of $600 to $1,000 and/or at least 30 days in jail

You will also be required to take a safe boating course at your own expense. Refusal to take a drug or alcohol test counts as an offense.

Drinking on the water can affect you more than you expect

Many people are under the misimpression that it's safer to boat while intoxicated than it is to drive drunk. In fact, the opposite is true.

Operating a boat is challenging enough without alcohol. As the Coast Guard points out, one reason drunk boating is so dangerous is that there are many more variables to keep track of when operating a boat. The operator must consider the depth of the water, the size and direction of waves, the possibility of submerged obstructions and the effect of the weather, for example.

Beyond that, sun and heat, along with stressors such as rain, wind, noise, vibration and motion can intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs and some medications.

Is it legal to consume alcohol on the water if you don't get drunk?

Not on Kentucky waterways. Kentucky law prohibits alcohol consumption in any public place, and the state's waterways are considered public places.

You should also be aware that you may be subject to arrest if you are manifestly under the influence of alcohol to the extent that you may unreasonably annoy people or endanger yourself or others.

If you have been arrested for public drunkenness or BUI, hire an experienced attorney to protect your rights.

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Sheehan, Barnett, Dean, Pennington, Little & Dexter, P.S.C.
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