Boating Under Influence North Dakota

Just Floating

August 10, 2022

Contributor: Adam Justinger


It is the few short months out of the year where midwesterners get to exchange their parkas for bathing suits and bring the everlasting good time out on the water. For some, this may be parking your boat on the sandbar for the day, taking the jet ski out for a spin, or even as Little Big Town put it: “motorboating”  your way down the lake in your pontoon. Each of these situations has one thing in common: the day is so much more enjoyable when the cooler is stocked and the mountains on the can are blue. But before you crack open that cold one or warm up with some fireball, it’s important to know the law.

North Dakota Boating Laws

North Dakota law prohibits an individual from operating a motorboat or vessel while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In order for an individual to be arrested for Boating Under the Influence (BUI), game wardens or law enforcement officers must have probable cause that a motorboat operator is under the influence of intoxicating liquor, drugs, or a combination of the two. In determining this, law enforcement may question an individual or request an operator to take field sobriety tests to determine his/her sobriety. It is important to remember that you have the right to remain silent and that field sobriety tests are voluntary.

As of August 1, 2022, BUI is a class B misdemeanor offense. The maximum penalty for a class B misdemeanor is 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1,500.00. Unlike Driving Under the Influence, the legal limit in North Dakota for operating a motorboat or vessel is a .10 BAC. Thus, for a person to be charged with BUI they must either: 1) Have a BAC of .10 or higher; 2) Be under the influence of intoxicating liquor; 3) Be under the influence of drugs or substances to a degree that renders the individual incapable of safely operating a motorboat or vessel, or 4) Be under the influence of a combination of alcohol and any other drugs or substances to a degree which renders that person incapable of safely operating a motorboat or vessel. If a person refuses to submit to testing, proof of the refusal can be used in any action or proceeding.

Under North Dakota law, “operates” means to navigate or otherwise use a motorboat or vessel. In addition, the term “vessel” under this law means any watercraft used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water, and motorboat means any vessel propelled by machinery, whether or not the machinery is the principal source of propulsion.

In Conclusion

Although the law does not prohibit people of the legal drinking age from consuming alcoholic beverages or possessing open containers in a boat, it is still a criminal offense to operate a motorboat or vessel while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. If you are charged with a Boating Under the Influence offense, it is likely in your best interest to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney. For help with criminal matters in North Dakota or Minnesota, please contact Adam Justinger at SW&L Attorneys in Fargo at 701-297-2890. For future articles, check out our blog. This article is for informational purposes only.