Driving Under The Influence Penalties On The Water Mirror Those Of The Road

story by Adam Einck, LDWF Public Information


Every vehicle operator knows and understands the driving while intoxicated laws. They are familiar with such acronyms as DWI, DUI or even in some states OWI. These acronyms are short for operating a vehicle while intoxicated or impaired, driving a vehicle under the influence or operating a vehicle while intoxicated or impaired.


Most drivers are also very aware at the steep penalties associated for getting caught operating a vehicle while intoxicated or impaired.


However, some people are surprised to find out that there are acronyms such as BUI and even more shocked to learn that the same penalties apply for both BUIs and DUIs.


A BUI stands for Boating Under the Influence. People caught Boating Under the Influence will face the same penalties as those found guilty of a DWI, DUI or OWI.


In Louisiana, a DWI and BUI can be issued to anyone operating a moving vessel or vehicle while impaired. First offense DWI and BUI carries a $300 to $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.


Anyone cited for a DWI or BUI on the water or on the road will lose his or her driver’s license and boating privileges for the specified time ordered by the judge in the case. Also, each offense of operating a vehicle or vessel while intoxicated counts toward the total number of DWI crimes whether they happened on the water or road.


“A lot of people understand the danger and penalties associated with driving a vehicle while impaired,” said LDWF Enforcement Division Major Rachel Zechenelly, the state’s boating law administrator.  “However, we try to make sure every boater knows that the same law, penalties and dangers apply on the water as well if there is someone operating a vessel while impaired. That includes losing operating a vessel and driving a vehicle privileges if caught with a BUI or DWI.”


One of the LDWF Enforcement Division’s main missions is informing the public about maintaining safe boating practices. The enforcement division accomplishes this mission by enforcing the state’s waterway rules and regulations on water patrols and conducting safe boating education courses.


“We want people to have fun on the state’s waterways, but we want them to do it in a safe manner,” said Zechenelly. “A large component of maintaining safe boating practices is to have a sober operator. Having a sober operator is something that is taught in our safe boating education classes and something agents are looking for while on patrol.”


Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. It can increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion. Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs and some prescription medications.


Nationwide, alcohol is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating incidents, causing 19 percent of all deaths on the water. Louisiana had 20 boating fatalities in 2019 with alcohol playing a role in five fatalities or 25 percent.


One of the events that LDWF participates in yearly to help promote their BUI enforcement is the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) Operation Dry Water Weekend.


Operation Dry Water began in 2009 and is a joint program involving participating states, NASBLA and the U.S. Coast Guard. More information is available at During the annual Operation Dry Water weekend, law enforcement officers will be on heightened alert for those violating BUI laws.


In 2019, LDWF agents made nine BUIs cases during Operation Dry Water weekend from July 5-7. The 2020 Operation Dry Water Weekend is slated for July 3-5 and once again LDWF enforcement agents will be participating.


“Operation Dry Water is a great event as it gives us a chance to promote our sober operator message to the public,” said Zechenelly. “It also reminds boaters that we will be patrolling the waterways during the Fourth of July holiday to hopefully motivate them to have a sober operator of the vessel.”


In the 2018-19 fiscal year, LDWF agents issued 88 citations for boating under the influence. LDWF also certified more than 7,400 citizens in the 2018-19 fiscal year in their boating education classes where the importance of having a sober operator of a vessel is taught.


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