Can I Be Arrested for Boating While Intoxicated in Texas?

Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) is a criminal offense in Texas. The penalties are just as serious as the penalties for a standard DWI, and in some ways it is easier for prosecutors to win a conviction for BWI than for DWI. An experienced Houston BWI lawyer might be able to win you an acquittal or an advantageous plea bargain.

What is a “Boat” Under Texas BWI Law?

Under Texas law, you can be convicted of BWI for operating a wide variety of watercraft while intoxicated, including a motorboat, an aquaplane, a paddleboat, a kayak or even a pair of skis! About the only watercraft that you may legally “operate” while intoxicated is a craft propelled only by the force of the water (a float, for example). It is legal, however, to have an open container of alcohol on a boat.

Stops and Inspections

Arbitrary DWI roadblocks are illegal under Texas law. Such is not the case for BWI stops, however – the authorities may stop you, enter your boar, inspect it and inspect you for intoxication for no reason whatsoever, except for a general public duty to ensure water safety – “reasonable suspicion” is not required. This rule eliminates certain defenses that would be available to you if you were charged with DWI.

Standards for Intoxication

You do not have to be intoxicated with alcohol to be convicted of BWI – an illegal drug or even a legal prescription drug will be sufficient. The authorities may administer whatever sobriety test they consider appropriate to determine your level of intoxication, including a breathalyzer. Normally, however, standard tests such as the Finger to Nose Test will be administered.

There are three ways that the prosecutor can prove you were intoxicated:

  • Your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC ) was at least 0.08 percent (the same standard as for DWI)
  • You lost your normal physical facilities (lack of coordination, for example)
  • You lost your normal mental facilities (impaired judgement, for example)

Accordingly, because of Texas’ broad definition of intoxication, you do not have to register a BAC of 0.08 percent to be convicted of BWI.


Penalties for BWI include:

  • A minimum of 72 hours in jail (30 days minimum for a second offense). The maximum term of imprisonment is 180 days in jail.
  • A fine of up to $2,000

Losing Your Auto Driver’s License

If you refuse to take a sobriety test incident to a BWI stop, you can lose your driver’s license for 180 days, as long as your boat was motorized with a manufacturer’s rating of at least 50 horsepower. If you are operating another type of boat, you can still be convicted of BWI but will not lose your auto driver’s license for refusing a sobriety test.

Hiring an Attorney

Houston DWI and criminal defense lawyer Mario Madrid has been practicing law for decades, including stints as prosecutor and judge. He is also a member of the National College of DUI Defense Attorneys and a certified specialist in Criminal Law. If you have been charged with Boating While Intoxicated in the Houston area, call Madrid Law, PLLC at 713-877-9400 for a free initial consultation.

Can I Be Arrested for Boating While Intoxicated in Texas?

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