Boating Under the Influence in Tennessee: A Comprehensive Guide

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Beautiful lake in the Tennessee hills

With summer in full swing, the lakes around Knoxville, Sevierville, Maryville, Oak Ridge and Rocky Top are buzzing with activity. As much as we all love boating on the pristine waters of Fort Loudoun Lake, Douglas Lake, or Chilhowee Lake, it’s crucial to remember that just like driving, operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in Tennessee. As your trusted Boating Under the Influence Lawyer, we’re here to help you understand the intricacies of Tennessee’s BUI laws.

What Does Tennessee Law Say About Boating Under the Influence?

Under Tennessee Code Annotated 60-9-127, operating any vessel that is subject to registration while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is considered a criminal offense, specifically, a class A misdemeanor. If you’re caught boating under the influence, you could face mandatory minimum jail time, fines and court costs, and probation.

The Consequences of a BUI Conviction

If you’re convicted of a BUI, the penalties can be severe. A first-time offense, if convicted, would result a mandatory 48 hours in jail and up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, fines up to $2,500, court costs, and probation. Prior to 2021, a conviction would also suspend your boating privilege for up to a year, but that provision was removed in July 2021. The mandatory minimum jail time increases for a second offense, to 45 days, and for a third offense, to 120 days in jail.

Why You Need a Boating Under the Influence Lawyer

Being charged with a BUI can be a stressful and confusing experience. That’s where a skilled Boating Under the Influence Lawyer can make a significant difference. We understand the complexities of Tennessee BUI laws and will work diligently to protect your rights and fight the charges against you.

Field Sobriety Testing

One issue that will arise in most boating under the influence cases is whether there was probable cause to arrest you in the first place. This legal standard is usually met, in part, by the administration of field sobriety tests. While these tests are common in driving under the influence cases, the same tests used in DUIs are more difficult to perform while on a boat.

For that reason, a group called the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in 2011, published guidelines for seated sobriety testing that could be administered by officers on a boat. These tests include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which is also used in DUI, but excludes the walk and turn and one leg stand. In their place the boating under the influence test substitute the finger to nose test, the palm pat test and the hand coordination test. The accuracy of these tests has more limited research to prove their validity and are subject to being challenged in court.

Constitutional Issues

Boating under the influence cases often also involve challenges to the stopping of the boat itself. Tennessee residents enjoy the protection of the Fourth Amendment from seizures in the absence of reasonable suspicion or probable cause of a crime having been committed. However, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Officers are authorized to stop and board a vessel to enforce boating regulations and will often stop vessels for a “safety check.”

When this practice was challenged before the Arkansas Supreme Court, the arbitrary stopping and boarding of a boat, purely at the officer’s discretion was found to violate the Fourth Amendment. The circumstances of the officer’s stopping of your boat should be scrutinized to determine what information he or she had at the time of the stop and whether it was in compliance with your Fourth Amendment rights.

Judicial Diversion

Another difference between DUI law and BUI law is that a boating under the influence charge is eligible for judicial diversion while a DUI is not. A diversion, in some cases, can be a good option. It allows a defendant to avoid a conviction for boating under the influence and to eventually have the charged dismissed and expunged. There are strict eligibility requirements for entering into a diversion and both parties must agree to this resolution. It is important that your attorney determines early on in your case whether a diversion is available in your specific situation and whether it is a good option for you.

Our commitment to You

Whether you’ve been enjoying a day on Norris Lake near Rocky Top, or spending the weekend boating around Melton Hill Lake close to Knoxville, being charged with a BUI can happen when you least expect it. That’s why it’s essential to have an experienced Boating Under the Influence Lawyer in your corner.

Our team of experienced lawyers is committed to providing you with the best possible defense. We understand the intricacies of the law, the local court systems in Knoxville, Sevierville, Maryville, Oak Ridge and Rocky Top, and the best strategies for your defense.

When you choose us as your Boating Under the Influence Lawyer, you’re not just getting legal representation. You’re getting a dedicated team that will fight for your rights, your freedom, and your future. We are committed to providing the best possible defense for our clients, and we will work tirelessly on your behalf.

Remember, safe boating is no accident. Always designate a sober operator if you plan to consume alcohol while on our beautiful Tennessee lakes. If you find yourself needing a Boating Under the Influence Lawyer, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (865) 805-5703. We’re here to help, and we serve the entire region including Knoxville, Sevierville, Maryville, Oak Ridge and Rocky Top. Stay safe and enjoy the water, Tennessee!

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.