New Hampshire Boating While Intoxicated

What is New Hampshire BWI?

The U.S. Coast Guard's 2011 National Boating Survey estimated that 25% of households in New Hampshire own boats and 31% of households had at least one member embark on a canoeing or kayaking excursion that year. With so many people participating in water related activities, taking proper safety measures is important to everyone. One way the Coast Guard works to reduce boating accidents is to enforce BWI laws.

BWI stands for Boating While Intoxicated and applies to boating the same way that DWI laws apply to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It can also be referred to as BUI or Boating Under the Influence. Under New Hampshire Law, Section 265-A:1, a boat is considered:

every type of watercraft used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water.

This includes the following watercraft:

  • Motor boats
  • Canoes
  • Jetskis
  • Kayaks
  • Sail boats
  • Kiteboards
  • Paddle crafts

New Hampshire BWI Laws

The same laws that apply to DWI in New Hampshire also have provisions for boating while intoxicated. According to Section 265-A:1 of New Hampshire law, a person can be charged with BWI for any of the following:

  • Operating or attempting to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs which impair their ability to drive
  • Operating or attempting to operate a boat while under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol
  • Operating or attempting to operate a boat with an alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more if over 21.
  • Operating or attempting to operate a boat with an alcohol concentration of 0.02% or more if under 21.

The definition of “operate a boat” as defined under Section 265-A:1 of New Hampshire law is as follows:

means to drive, paddle, row, or exercise control over any boat unless the boat is at anchor, docked, made fast, or moored.

This is a very broad definition that can include basically any control of a watercraft that is not stationary.

Aggravated BWI

When a driving under the influence charge involves additional factors making the crime more serious, it can be charged as aggravated DWI under RSA 265-A:3 of New Hampshire law. This same law applies to boating under the influence. An aggravated BWI charge will carry additional penalties if a conviction occurs. A person can be charged with Aggravated BWI if they are accused of operating a boat under the influence of drugs, alcohol or a combination of both and at least one of the following:

  • Causes a boat accident leading to serious injury or death of another person
  • Attempts to evade law enforcement by turning off navigational lamps, speeding up, abandoning the vehicle, etc.
  • Has passenger under the age of 16 on board
  • Has an alcohol concentration of more than twice the legal limit for adults over 21.

Underage BWI

A boater under the legal drinking age of 21 cannot have an alcohol concentration of 0.02% or greater while operating a boat in New Hampshire. If they violate this law, they will be subject to BWI charges. In addition, a person under 21 who has alcohol on their boat and is not accompanied by an adult can be charged with transportation of alcoholic beverages by a minor (RSA 265-A:45). The penalties for this offense include 90 days of boating privilege suspension as well as the possibility of 90 days of driver's license suspension.

New Hampshire BWI Process

The process of being arrested for suspicion of boating under the influence is similar to that of DWI. Instead of being pulled over by police, the U.S. Coast Guard or NH Marine Patrol will perform the stop. The Coast Guard patrols the coastal areas on the ocean and the NH Marine Patrol protects the lakes in the state. Under RSA 265-A:16, law enforcement will also test all persons involved in an accident that involves serious injury or death for drug or alcohol impairment. In any of these situations, the operator will be asked to take a chemical sobriety test. A chemical test can involve giving a blood, breath or urine sample for evaluation. It is important to remember that law enforcement must have a valid reason to believe that an operator is impaired in order to request they take a test. The results of these test can and will be used against the suspect in court as evidence of their intoxication.

When a person operates or attempts to operate a boat in New Hampshire, they are giving their implied consent to submit to chemical testing to determine whether they are under the influence of a substance that is known to cause impairment. Under RSA265-A:4, this can include:

  • Intoxicating liquor
  • Controlled drugs
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Over-the-counter drugs
  • Natural or synthetic chemical substances

Refusing to submit to a chemical test will result in a violation of implied consent law and result in suspension of the boater's driver's license for the following periods:

  • First refusal and no prior convictions:
    • 180 days of license suspension
  • Repeat refusal OR any refusal with prior convictions:
    • 2 years of license suspension
Penalties of Boating Under the Influence in NH

Some people do not take BWI charges seriously. A conviction for boating while intoxicated can affect an offender's ability to operate a boat and their driving record. A person who is convicted of RSA 265-A:2 or RSA-265-A:3 for boating while impaired by drugs or alcohol will face the following penalties under RSA 265-A:19:

  • A misdemeanor criminal conviction added to their criminal and driving record
  • One year suspension of boat operation privileges
  • Completion of a substance use disorder evaluation if convicted of BWI with a minor under 16 on board

In addition, drivers who are convicted of DWI, that is driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated, will also lose their ability to operate a motorboat. Drivers convicted of DWI will lose this privilege for one year and drivers convicted of Aggravated DWI will lose this privilege for the same amount of time as their driver's license is suspended.

Call a New Hampshire BWI Defense Lawyer

If you are facing charges for boating while intoxicated in New Hampshire, call our office right now. Just like driving related offenses, BWI charges are defensible. The sooner you call our experienced attorneys, the sooner we can begin to build you defense