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Arizona Boating Laws & Penalties: Operating Under The Influence

arizona boating laws
An OUI can cost thousands of dollars if you're convicted
Operating a boat or PWC while impaired is dangerous and illegal. Just like drinking and driving a car, if you're caught operating a boat while you're intoxicated, you can be arrested for an "OUI" (operating under the influence). The legal limit for operating a boat or PWC is just like driving a car - .08 in both cases. Boating under the influence is considered a class one misdemeanor and comes with severe financial consequences. Boaters are urged to be familiar with Arizona boating laws for OUI, and the consequential penalties which can be found in Title 5, Article 10 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. Personal watercraft operators are obligated to follow the same Arizona boating laws as other vessels.

Agencies with jurisdiction over Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu PoliceLake Havasu is considered a federal waterway and is governed by eight agencies. The Lake Havasu City Police Department has jurisdiction over the Bridgewater Channel. The Mohave County & San Bernardino County Sheriffs, as well as Arizona Game & Fish Department, Arizona State Park Department, and the U.S. Coast Guard have jurisdiction over the lake itself. The Chemehuevi Indian Tribe has jurisdiction over all reservation shorelines and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has federal jurisdiction over the lake and government lands surrounding the lake. That's a lot of jurisdictional agencies to keep track of, to say the least.

OUI checkpoints

During the busy summer months, any one of the law enforcement agencies may set up an OUI checkpoint on the water. The purpose of the checkpoint is to detect and remove impaired and unsafe boaters. In 2013, 240 people were arrested statewide on waterways for OUI citations.

If you get pulled over

A.R.S. §5-395.03, which went into effect in 2014, states if you operate (drive) a boat, PWC, or motorized watercraft on any body of water within the state of Arizona (including Lake Havasu), in using the waterway, you automatically give consent to any law enforcement officer who believes you may be under the influence to test you by blood, breath, urine, or other bodily substance, for the purpose of determining your alcohol concentration or drug content. If you refuse to be tested, whether you are sober or not, you will be subject to civil penalties of $750. If you are convicted of OUI, you will also have to pay additional civil penalties and all additional court costs that are associated with an OUI conviction.

Arizona boating laws & boating under the influence penalties

Boat accidentWatercraft operators who are under the influence of alcohol were responsible for 38% of all fatal boating accidents in 2013. Degress of conviction of an OUI are broken down by blood alcohol content. Operating a boat/personal watercraft while impaired to the slightest degree, having a blood alcohol level (BAC) of more than .08%, or being under the influence of illegal drugs constitutes an OUI. Additionally, there is a presumption of intoxication if your BAC is .08% or more within two hours of operating a boat or being in actual physical control of the watercraft. An OUI conviction is a class 1 misdemeanor and a person convicted of an OUI must:

BAC .08% to >.15%
  • Serve not less than ten consecutive days in jail (at the expense of the person convicted);
  • Pay fines of not less than $1,250;
  • May be court-ordered to perform community restitution;
  • Be court-ordered to complete an alcohol or other drug screening (at the expense of the person convicted); and
  • May be court-ordered to complete a drug or alcohol education or treatment program (at the expense of the person convicted).

Extreme OUI

There are two classifications of an extreme OUI and the classifications are based on whether a person's BAC is .15% to less than .20% or .20% and over. Consequences for extreme OUI are significantly greater than those of a regular OUI:
BAC .15% to >.20%
  • Serve not less than thirty consecutive days in jail* (at the expense of the person convicted);
  • Pay fines of not less than $2,500;
  • May be court-ordered to perform community restitution; and
  • Be court-ordered to complete an alcohol or other drug screening, education, or treatment program (at the expense of the person convicted).
    *The judge may suspend all but ten days of jail time if this program is completed.
BAC .20% or greater
  • Serve not less than forty-five consecutive days in jail (at the expense of the person convicted);
  • Pay fines of not less than $2,750;
  • May be court-ordered to perform community restitution;
  • Be court-ordered to complete an alcohol or other drug screening (at the expense of the person convicted); and
  • May be court-ordered to complete a drug or alcohol education or treatment program (at the expense of the person convicted).

Arizona takes boating under the influence very seriously. Having "just one" while driving a boat can have grave consequences personally and financially. Drinking while operating a boat not only endangers the lives of the driver and his/her occupants, but endangers everyone else enjoying the lake. For a responsible and safe boating experience while on Lake Havasu, consider taking a 6-hour Boating Education Class or hiring a Designated Captain.

Designated Captain Program

The Lake Havasu Marine Association offers a program that allows boaters to hire a Designated Captain to operate their privately-owned or rented boat for the day. Designated Captains are necessary, logical, and much needed in order to minimize the number of intoxicated boat operators on the water, especially on busy holiday weekends. The cost of hiring a Designated Captain pales in comparison to what an OUI conviction will cost the driver of a boat or PWC. For more information, click here.

If you haven't already, anyone planning on boating on Lake Havasu is urged to peruse our Boating Safety section as well as review the AZ Boating Laws & Regulations (published by the AZ Game & Fish Dept) and the Boater's Guide to Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats (published by the U.S Coast Guard).

Our boating safety section is a four-part series. Please browse through the additional sections for more information:

Part 1: Boating Safety
Part 2: Arizona Boating Laws
Part 3: Bridgewater Channel Laws
Part 4: OUI Laws