Boating Under The Influence In Colorado

man steering a motor boat on a lake

With over 4000 lakes and reservoirs, it is no surprise that boating is a popular pastime in Colorado during the summer months. While it can be both a relaxing and exciting experience, it is important that boaters adhere to safety laws, including those related to alcohol consumption. Boating under the influence (BUI) is a serious offense in Colorado with severe legal and safety implications. Whether you’re a seasoned boater or a newcomer to Colorado’s scenic waters, understanding the laws and risks associated with alcohol consumption while operating a boat is very important before you set out on the water.

Can You Bring Alcohol on a Boat in Colorado?

Bringing alcohol on a boat in Colorado is allowed; however, there are strict regulations governing its consumption. It’s legal for passengers to drink alcohol on board, but the operator (the person steering the boat) must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

If a law enforcement official has reasonable suspicion that the operator of a boat is intoxicated, they can submit them to a breathalyzer test. A blood alcohol content of 0.08 at the time of the test or up to two hours later is considered a BUI. 

What Are the Penalties for Boating While Intoxicated in Colorado?

Boating under the influence in Colorado carries significant penalties.

  • Criminal Charges: BUI is treated similarly to a DUI in Colorado. If caught, you could face a misdemeanor or even a felony charge under certain circumstances.
  • Fine and Jail Time: Penalties include fines ranging from $100 to $1,000, depending on the offense’s severity. Jail time is also possible, especially for repeat offenders or cases involving injury or death.
  • Boating Privileges: Your boating privileges can be suspended or revoked, impacting your ability to operate a boat in Colorado waters. The first offense will result in a three-month revocation of your boating privileges; a second offense will keep you off the water for a year. 

Is Boating Under the Influence Just For Motor Boats?

No. Colorado’s BUI laws apply to any “vessel” you can maneuver on the water. This includes:

  • Motor boats
  • Sailboats
  • Water Skis
  • Jet Skis
  • Canoes
  • Kayaks
  • Paddleboards

Colorado’s BUI law applies to anyone intoxicated while “operating” a vessel. Operating applies to any situation where the vessel is in use, even if the engine is off or you are merely floating on the water. 

Can I Take My Prescription Medication While Driving A Boat?

Taking any drug, even prescribed, is illegal in Colorado if it impairs your ability to safely drive or operate your water vessel. If your prescription medication causes drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, etc., it is best to let someone else drive the boat. 

Potential Dangers of Boating Under the Influence

Operating a boat under the influence poses numerous dangers:

  • Impaired Judgment: Alcohol impairs judgment, making navigating safely and responding to hazards difficult.
  • Reduced Coordination: Balance, reflexes, and coordination are all impaired, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Increased Risk of Accidents: Boating accidents involving alcohol often result in serious injury or death due to collisions, falls overboard, or other mishaps.

Common Boating Injuries

Injuries from boating accidents can be severe and include:

  • Traumatic brain injury from collisions or falls
  • Deep cuts and broken bones from falls or impacts
  • Severe bruising
  • Whiplash
  • Burns
  • Amputations from propeller blades 

Worst case scenario, a boater or passengers can drown. In fact, alcohol use continues to be the leading factor in recreational boating deaths in the United States. For this reason, many law enforcement agencies participate in Operation Dry Water (ODW). This is a three-day period when there will be an increased presence of law enforcement at local lakes who will be strictly monitoring the use of alcohol. ODW 2024 will take place between July 4-6. 

What To Do If You Are Involved In A Boating Accident

Ensure Everyone’s Safety

If you are involved in an accident, your priority should be the safety of everyone on board.  Stop the boat immediately and do a quick headcount. Assess for any injuries and perform first aid as needed. 

Call For Help

Once everyone is accounted for, use your radio to make a mayday call or call local authorities using your cellphone, if it is operational. Give them your name, location, your boat’s name, the number of passengers, and the nature of the emergency. 

Document The Scene

If it is possible to do so, note the circumstances of your accident: the time of day, weather, witnesses, hazards, and any other factors leading up to the incident. Take pictures of any injuries and damage to your boat, if you can. 

Exchange Information With Other Involved Parties

If the accident involved another vessel, exchange your contact details the same way you would following a motor vehicle accident. Boating insurance is not required in Colorado, but be sure to ask anyway if the other party carries it. Offer your insurance information as well, if you have it.

Report The Accident

You are required by law to file an accident report within five days if it resulted in:

  • Loss of life or disappearance from a boat
  • Injuries that required medical treatment outside of basic first aid
  • Property damage greater than $2000 or total loss of a water vessel

It is a good idea to report the accident anyway, should legal complications arise. Every bit of documentation is important in building a case. Report your boating accident in Colorado at the scene or later online using the Parks And Wildlife Boat Incident Report Form

What If A Boater Hurt Me Under the Influence?

If you or someone you know was hurt by a boater under the influence, you should seek guidance from an experienced personal injury attorney. He or she can help you seek fair compensation for your injuries and damage to your personal property. 

In Colorado, The Roth Group specializes in handling such cases with expertise and compassion. We understand how frightening and emotionally draining these experiences can be. We will handle negotiations and other legal red tape so you can focus on family and recovery. Call or go online today to schedule your free consultation.