Boating Under the Influence Laws in Massachusetts

Can I drink alcohol on a boat in Massachusetts?

The answer is yes, but only if you are not the operator. Recreational boat operators cannot be boating while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Specifically, the law states an operator will be considered intoxicated if found at or above the legal alcohol limit for vehicle operators, which is currently .08 blood-alcohol concentration.

Further, it is illegal for the vessel owner or operator to allow anyone known to be intoxicated or on controlled substances to operate the boat.

While there are no open container prohibitions on the books for boaters, operators should be acutely aware of the following consequences if stopped by Harbor Patrol or the Coast Guard:

  • You, as operator of the boat, can be asked to take a breath test to determine your BAC.
  • If you refuse to take the breathalyzer or chemical test, you will be charged with a Refusal violation.
  • Under Refusal laws for boaters, your Mass Driver’s License will be automatically suspended for 120 days by the RMV. Your DL is suspended because there is no boater’s license in the Commonwealth.
  • Refusal laws also allow your boat registration to be revoked for a period of 120 days.

Penalties in MA for a BUI Conviction

Many people do not realize that they can be sentenced to jail for a BUI offense if convicted. In fact, sentencing penalties for a BUI are very similar to the penalties for a DUI/OUI conviction.

Like a DUI crime, boating while intoxicated is also an enhanceable offense in the Commonwealth. This means that if you have similar prior convictions, the penalties for your current conviction will be increased.

The maximum “look back” period for BUIs is 10 years (for DUI/OUI, look back is over the person’s life.)

Number and frequency of prior BUIs increases the severity of penalties upon a conviction. The chart below summarizes the potential penalties for a BUI conviction in Massachusetts.

Frequency | PenaltyJailFineDL Suspension
1st BUI everUp to 2.5 yrsUp to $1,000Refusal: 120 days
2nd BUI w/in 6 years2 to 130 weeks$300 – $1kRefusal: 120 days
3rd BUI w/in 6 years26 to 130 weeks$500 – $1kRefusal: 120 days
4th BUI w/in 10 years1 yr mandatory*$500 – $1kRefusal: 120 days
5th BUI w/in 10 years2 yrs mandatory*$1k – $1,500Refusal: 120 days


* Upon a 4th offense for boating under the influence, you face a mandatory minimum jail term of 1 year in the House of Corrections, up to 10 years in state prison. At a 5th BUI conviction, your sentence must include a minimum of 2 years in the House of Corrections, and could be up to 10 years in state prison.

If you have been arrested for BUI in Lawrence, Haverhill, Yarmouth, Boston, or elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, contact Attorney Greg Oberhauser today to discuss how he can help you fight your charges and successfully resolve your case.


Attorney Gregory Oberhauser

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Gregory Oberhauser is the ONLY attorney in Massachusetts to be distinguished as an ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist by the American Chemical Society!

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