There’s nothing so relaxing as a sunny afternoon on the water, catching some fish or perhaps towing the kids behind your boat in a tube. Some people extend their enjoyment by packing a picnic to enjoy a meal on the water as well. You may feel tempted to pack a few beers in your cooler to sip under the sun. If you do, be careful to ensure that you drink responsibly.

After all, boating involves operating a motor vehicle. If you have too many drinks and continue to use your boat, you could end up facing boating while intoxicated (BWI) charges in Virginia. While that charge may sound amusing, it’s a serious crime that carries considerable consequences.

Boating has the same blood alcohol limit as driving

There’s a simple guide for determining if you’ve had too much to drink. If you’re feeling buzzed or you wouldn’t drive your car, you shouldn’t operate your boat. Virginia law uses the same blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for boating as they do for driving. In other words, if your BAC is 0.08 percent or higher while operating a boat, you’re breaking the law. For those under the age of 21, a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher could result in criminal charges.

There are law enforcement officials who patrol lakes, shorelines and waterways to seek out and cite intoxicated boaters. In addition to a potential criminal charge, you could find yourself spending your vacation weekend behind bars.

How does Virginia penalize boating while intoxicated?

Alcohol is a common factor in many boating accidents and deaths related to boating. Therefore, Virginia and other states have a vested interest in keeping people off the water while under the influence. They create penalties intended to deter people from boating after drinking and to remind those who do that the risks far outweigh the momentary enjoyment.

If you plead guilty or get convicted of a BWI offense, you will face a fine of up to $2,500, up to 12 months in jail, the loss of boating privileges for up to three years and mandatory attendance in an Alcohol Safety Action Program.

Stay safe and sober while out on the water

Boating is a lot of fun, but it carries an inherent risk. A sudden storm or mechanical issue could place you and everyone else on the boat in danger. You need to be sober enough to make intelligent decisions and make it to shore safely.

Have fun over the summer, and take your boat out whenever you can. For those who find themselves facing potential criminal charges after a weekend on the water, it’s important to consider options before making any decisions. Defending against a BWI may be the best choice in many situations, as it could allow you to avoid a criminal record and other consequences.