Don’t let Memorial Day Boating Sink your Life in Phoenix, AZ

by Aaron Black • May 23, 2019
Partying on boatsOperating a watercraft on Arizona’s lakes and rivers can make wonderful memories with family and friends, but beware as authorities will be aggressively hunting for operators who are impaired by alcohol or drugs in the “slightest degree” this Memorial Day weekend.

Officers enforce Arizona's tough Operating Under the Influence boating laws from different agencies - Arizona Game and Fish, the State Park Department, County Sheriff’s Deputies, and in certain places, such as Lake Havasu, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Federal Officers.

They have a strong presence at the seven water recreation sites in the greater Phoenix area:
  • Apache Lake
  • Bartlett Lake
  • Canyon Lake
  • Lake Pleasant
  • Saguaro Lake
  • Tempe Town Lake
  • City Urban Lakes
According to Arizona Game and Fish which registers boats, more than 125,000 watercrafts are registered and the waterways can get crowded.

Arizona statistics show that alcohol or drug impairment on the waterways is the main cause of watercraft-involved accidents, injuries, and deaths, which is why authorities are aggressive in enforcing this law.

Operating a Watercraft Under the Influence (OUI)

Operation of watercrafts while impaired is addressed in Arizona Revised Statute §5-395 that states anyone who is operating or in “actual physical control” of a craft that has an engine while intoxicated by liquor, drugs, or a vapor is breaking this law.

Actual physical control means that the impaired operator is capable of operating the craft and is in close proximity to the controls whether the craft is running or not.

OUI Punishments are Harsh!

Arizona’s no tolerance policy enacts harsh penalties for boating while impaired. These are the same as driving intoxicated on roads. Those who violate this law face being convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor, the most serious of the state’s three levels of misdemeanor offenses.
  • A class 1 misdemeanor conviction for a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit of 0.08 percent is punishable by jail time and significant fines that can reach four figures.
  • If the level of intoxication is 0.15 the charge is elevated to an “extreme” OUI and that is a much more serious felony charge. Beyond that is super extreme OUIs and, depending upon the circumstances, the state can add an aggravated allegation. If you’ve had a previous OUI conviction within 84 months (7 years) the punishments are far worse.
Note that plea bargaining to a lesser offense isn’t an option in OUI cases and the charge can’t be dismissed in return for a guilty or no contest plea, but your case may still be dismissed for insufficient legal or factual reasons to move the case forward.

Those who cause injury or death to other boaters will face additional charges, such as bodily injury or negligent homicide.

Legal Reasons Authorities Can Stop You

Even a small infraction of Arizona’s boating laws gives authorities sufficient reason to stop you, and if they suspect you’re impaired, they’ll ask you to take a field sobriety test. However, after two hours if the BAC is 0.05, it’s presumed that the defendant was under the legal limit.

These are common reckless acts that authorities look for:
  • Passengers were riding on the gunwales or on a covered or closed bow while moving at a speed fast enough to build a wake.
  • Speeding or moving at a speed that is unsafe for the conditions.
  • Having a wanton or willful disregard for other people or property.
  • Failing to wear a life jacket or other required safety equipment.
  • Registration is expired or the craft is not registered.
When an officer indicates for you to pull over you need to maneuver to allow the officer’s craft to glide alongside your vessel and stop.

What Should I do if I’m stopped by the Police?

The best thing to do when the officer starts asking questions, such as “Have you been drinking this afternoon?”,  is to decline to answer in a respectful tone and invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and that you want a qualified defense attorney at your side.

It may seem awkward to refuse a law officer, but you have the right not to incriminate yourself, and the officer knows it. In stopping the questioning, you begin your defense because anything said becomes evidence against you.

Deciding not to take the sobriety test may result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

Watch out for Holiday Check Points

To deter excessive drinking and drug use, on the water check points and saturation patrols are routinely set up by authorities during Arizona’s boating season, March through September, with the holidays during those months getting extra attention to prevent deaths and injuries.

Power boats, sailboats that have small engines, and personal watercrafts including canoes, kayaks, jet skis, and paddle boats can be stopped at these check points.

Unlike road-going vehicles, in recreational boating, it’s entirely lawful to carry an open container of alcohol onboard.

Common OUI Defenses

Each case has its own specific circumstances that can determine a defense, which can be similar to defenses for driving under the influence. These are common defenses:
  • The officer didn’t have a reasonable suspicion to detain your craft.
  • The officer didn’t have probable cause to stop you.
  • Illegal search of the boat or your person and illegal seizure of property
  • Breathalyzer tests can be inaccurate because of calibration or another fault with the machine or in the procedure for testing.
  • Field sobriety test, such as touching your nose, which was administered on the boat, is suspect because of the motion even while stopped can impact your coordination. If administered off the boat, the result can be dubious because your “sea legs” can affect your coordination.
  • The officer in arresting you didn’t recite the Miranda Rights, the right to remain silent and that you have a right to an attorney.

Get a Free & Confidential Case Review

If you or a loved one is facing an OUI charge it’s in your best interest to be represented by an experienced DUI Defense Attorney.

Contact Phoenix DUI Defense Attorney Aaron Black for a free telephonic legal consultation 24 hours a day without any obligation. Call 480-729-1683 to assess your case and learn about your options.

The Law Office of Aaron Black defends clients charged with serious criminal offenses in all Arizona City, state, and federal Courts.
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to inform clients and potential clients I am still available for consultations. I am always available by phone, text and/or email. We can also use Facetime for social distancing. The criminal justice system is not stopping due to COVID-19.

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