Things to consider: Drinking alcohol while operating a boat puts everyone’s safety at risk and the penalties for OUI and BUI under Arizona Law are severe. It can mean thousands of dollars in fines or even jail time. Because of the hot Arizona sun and long days on the water, boaters may not realize how intoxicated they are getting, even when drinking the same amount of alcohol as they do on dry land. 

“Boat operators with a blood alcohol concentration above 10 percent are estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to be killed in a boating accident than boat operators with zero blood alcohol concentration.”  – US Coast Guard

If the boat driver is intoxicated, as defined by Arizona law, he can be penalized with an Operating a boat Under the Influence (OUI) or Boating Under the Influence (BUI) charge.  For the safety of everyone on the water the boat operator should never be intoxicated. But, a lot of fun-loving boaters wonder, are just a few drinks legal?

How much alcohol am I allowed to drink while boating?

Passengers on a boat are allowed to drink alcohol. The boat driver is not. It’s best to designate a non-drinking boat driver before going out on the water. If not, then the driver is at risk for getting a BUI. It is illegal to be intoxicated while driving a boat. 


According to experts, a person will bring their BAC up to dangerous levels if they consume more than 2 drinks in the span of 1-2 hours. This does not factor in heat and fatigue which can increase impairment more than on dry land. 

One drink is defined as either 1 beer (12 ounces containing 5% alcohol), 1 glass of wine (5 ounces containing 12% alcohol), or 1 shot of distilled spirits (1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor containing 40% alcohol).

Is It Legal to Drink Alcohol On a Boat? 

Yes, if you are not driving the boat, then you can drink alcohol on a boat. It is legal to consume alcohol while boating. It is not legal to be intoxicated while operating the boat. 

However, if the boat driver is drinking alcohol, he is at risk for OUI or BUI.  

BUI laws in Arizona

OUI and BUI laws in Arizona apply when an individual operates a watercraft in Arizona. Law enforcement has increased alcohol checkpoints and patrols over the last few years in an effort to reduce boating accidents related to alcohol and intoxicated boat drivers. 

Regular BUI 

The criteria for a Regular Boating Under the Influence in Arizona is:

  • While under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of the two, if you are impaired to the slightest degree; and/or
    • You have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 (BAC) or greater

Extreme BUI

The criteria for an Extreme BUI in Arizona is: 

  • Extreme Boating Under the Influence occurs when an individual’s BAC exceeds certain levels. In that regard, the Title 5 law contains a virtually identical version of the extreme DUI statute, providing additional penalties if:
    • Your BAC is 0.15 or more (extreme BUI); or
    • Your BAC is 0.20 or more (super extreme BUI)

Aggravated BUI

  • Aggravated Boating Under the Influence or Felony Boating Under the Influence may apply where:
    • You are charged with a third BUI within a period of 7 years; or
    • You commit an offense of Regular BUI or Extreme BUI while there is a passenger on the watercraft who is under the age of 15

Drug or Marijuana BUI

Drug BUI occurs if there is any dangerous drug, narcotic drug or other illegal drug including marijuana in your system, other than a drug prescribed by your doctor. However, even in instances of drugs prescribed by a doctor, you may be charged with BUI if law enforcement alleges you are impaired by the prescribed drug (recommended in the case of marijuana).

Commercial BUI

Commercial BUI occurs when a person operates a commercial watercraft, if you have a BAC of 0.04 or higher

BUI Penalties in Arizona

First Offense BUI (A.R.S. § 5-395)

  • You should assume that it will cost you thousands of dollars in fines, assessments, and other charges, that you will be required to complete an alcohol and drug screening, and that you will be required to attend substance abuse classes
  • Jail time is also possible, although it can be suspended in some cases based upon your successful completion of the screening and attendance at alcohol/drug classes

Second Offense BUI (A.R.S. § 5-395)

  • Mandatory jail time of at least 30 days (minimum 90-day sentence imposed, with suspension of 60 days after completion of screening/classes)
  • Higher fines and fees

Drug or Marijuana BUI (A.R.S. § 5-395)

  • The penalties for a drug or marijuana related BUI mimic those of an alcohol related BUI
  • A person can be found guilty when a drug or metabolite is found in your system while operating a watercraft

Extreme BUI (A.R.S. § 5-397)

  • You are subject to additional penalties if your BAC is 0.15 or more (Extreme BUI)
  • A first offense will lead to at least 10 days in jail, as well as higher fines
  • If your BAC is 0.20 or higher (Super Extreme BUI), a minimum of forty-five days in jail must be served if convicted

Aggravated BUI (R.S. § 5-396)

  • As in the case of DUI, aggravated BUI is a felony, and the penalties reflect that classification. 
  • Aggravated BUI includes (a) three or more BUI’s within 84 months; and (b) BUI with a child passenger

Renting a Boat

Just because its not your boat doesn’t mean that the rules don’t apply to you. Actually you could have more issues. The rental insurance company could come after you for damages as well. If deemed not to be the assigned driver the rental insurance can void any coverage as well. 

Final Thoughts

A designated non-drinking boat driver should be determined before a day on the water for everyone’s safety. Fatalities while boating increase dramatically when alcohol is involved and with the heat and fatigue of a day on the water, boat drivers can become more impaired than usual. The penalties as determined by Arizona Law can be severe if law enforcement becomes involved. The safest bet is to avoid alcohol while driving a boat to stay out of trouble and keep everyone safe.  

Lake Havasu Boat Rentals, Sandbar Powersports has great boats, friendly staff.