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Alcohol and Boating

Boating Under the Influence in Nebraska

BUI Penalities

Operating a motorboat in Nebraska with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or greater constitutes Boating Under the Influence (BUI) and carries a penalty of up to $1,000 fine, up to six months in jail and the loss of boating privileges for six months. In addition, a court may order a person convicted of BUI to attend an alcoholism treatment program. Refusal to submit to a chemical blood alcohol text will result in the same penalties as BUI.

Dangers of BUI

Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination.

These impairments increase the likelihood of accidents afloat for both passengers and boat operators. U.S. Coast Guard data shows that in boating deaths involving alcohol use, over half the victims capsized their boats and/or fell overboard.

Alcohol is even more hazardous on the water than on land.

The marine environment, motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray accelerates a drinker’s impairment. These stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator’s coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster when using alcohol.

Alcohol can also be more dangerous because boat operators are often less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway.

Recreational boaters do not have the benefit of experiencing daily boat operation.

Alcohol Effects

When a boater or passenger drinks, the following occur:
  • Cognitive abilities and judgment deteriorate, making it harder to process information, assess situations, and make good choices.
  • Physical performance is impaired, evidenced by balance problems, lack of coordination, and increased reaction time.
  • Vision is affected, including decreased peripheral vision, reduced depth perception, decreased night vision, poor focus, and difficulty in distinguishing colors (particularly red and green).
  • Inner ear disturbances can make it impossible for a person who falls into the water to distinguish up from down.
  • Alcohol creates a physical sensation of warmth, which may prevent a person in cold water from getting out before hypothermia sets in.
  • As a result of these factors, a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration. Passengers are also at greatly increased risk for injury and death, especially if they are also using alcohol.

Avoiding BUI

Tips from the U.S. Coast Guard
  • Take along a variety of cool drinks, such as sodas, water, iced tea, lemonade or non-alcoholic beer.
  • Bring plenty of food and snacks.
  • Wear clothes that will help keep you and your passengers cool.
  • Plan to limit your trip to a reasonable time to avoid fatigue. Remember that it is common to become tired more quickly on the water.
  • If you want to make alcohol part of your day’s entertainment, plan to have a party ashore at the dock, in a picnic area, at a boating club, or in your backyard. Choose a location where you will have time between the fun and getting back into your car or boat.
  • If you dock somewhere for lunch or dinner and drink alcohol with your meal, wait a reasonable time (estimated at a minimum of an hour per drink) before operating your boat.
  • Having no alcohol while aboard is the safest way to enjoy the water. Intoxicated passengers are also at risk of injury and falls overboard.
  • Spread the word on the dangers of BUI. Many recreational boaters forget that a boat is a vehicle and that safe operation is a legal and personal responsibility.

Operation Dry Water

Operation Dry Water is a year-round boating under the influence awareness and enforcement campaign. Its mission is to reduce the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities through increased recreational boater awareness and by fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol use on the water.

Operation Dry Water’s heightened awareness and enforcement three-day weekend takes place annually on the weekend before the Fourth of July, a holiday unfortunately known for drinking and boating, and deadly accidents. Operation Dry Water is a joint program of Game and Parks, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, and the U.S. Coast Guard. For more information, visit operationdrywater.org.

Estimating Impairment

This table gives a guide to average impacts of alcohol consumption. However, many factors, including prescription medications and fatigue, can affect an individual’s response to alcohol, and impairment can occur much more quickly as a result.

There is no safe threshold for drinking and operating a boat. Do not assume you are safe just because you fall into the “rarely” or “possibly” influenced categories. Download the table PDF

BAC chart

Did You Know?

  • BUI is just as deadly as drinking and driving.
  • A boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than a driver, drink for drink.
  • The use of alcohol, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, is involved in about a third of all recreational boating deaths.
  • Nationwide, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 15 percent of deaths.
  • In Nebraska, from 2012-2016, alcohol use was a contributing factor in eight boating accidents, in one fatal accident, and in 18 injuries from those accidents.

For More Information

Contact one of the following offices:
Game and Parks headquarters          Lincoln             402-471-0641
Northwest district                              Alliance           308-763-2940
Service center                                    Bassett            402-684-2921
Service center                                     Kearney           308-865-5310
Northeast district                               Norfolk           402-370-3374
Southwest district                              North Platte   308-535-8025
Metro                                                  Omaha            402-595-2144
Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium                        Gretna             402-332-3901

Additional Nebraska resources

Boating Regulations
Boating Waters Map
Boater Education Course