Can You Get A DUI On A Kayak? The Surprising Answer!

We both know that drinking and driving is a foolish, irresponsible, and flat-out illegal thing. Well, at least I hope that’s something we all agree on, anyway. 

What about kayaks, though? 

Is having a couple of beers during your kayaking trip as dangerous as driving under the influence? Is kayaking after drinking alcohol even allowed? And most importantly, can you get a DUI on a kayak

The short answer would be “Yes, you can get a DUI on a kayak” – but there’s a whole lot more you should know about boating while intoxicated! 

What Is A BUI? Kayaking Version Of “Driving Under The Influence”  

BUI DUI kayaking - photo depicting drunk test by a policema

When you think “DUI,” drinking and driving is probably the first thing to pop in your head because that’s the classic example of why someone might get charged with a DUI – by exceeding the legal limit for alcohol consumption.

But contrary to popular belief, driving or, in this case, boating under the influence is not limited to alcohol consumption

Alcohol is only part of the BUI law equation. Any controlled substance that can impair your ability to operate a vessel effectively and safely while under its influence counts and can result in BUI charges. 

That includes alcohol, recreational drugs – and even certain prescription medications

So, whatever you choose to call it – BUI (boating under the influence), BWI (boating while intoxicated), or even the standard DUI (driving under the influence) – it means the same thing: 

Managing a vessel under the influence of alcohol – or drugs – is illegal. 

The Consequences of Boating Under the Influence

What’s the Difference Between BUI and BWI?

In terms of the legality, there is no difference between a BUI and a BWI. They both fall under the same set of state and federal regulations, and they both come with the same penalties if convicted. 

The only difference is in the terminology itself:

  • BUI stands for “boating under the influence,” while
  • BWI stands for “boating while intoxicated.”

Some states prefer to use one term over the other, but they both mean the same thing and have the same laws. 

Kayaking Laws Around The World: Is The Law The Same Everywhere? 

Law enforcement has gotten dead serious about regulating kayaks and motorized vessels to reduce the number of BUI-related accidents and fatalities.

The specific laws regarding boating while intoxicated aren’t necessarily the same, but you can still get charged with BUI in most countries worldwide.

USA Kayak BUI Laws

Kayak DUI - USA flag map, three dimensional render, isolated on white

Some kayakers will argue that they are exempt from boating under the influence laws – they believe the rules apply only to motorized vessels, or boats that are larger than a certain size. However, this is not the case;

Operating a boat while intoxicated is considered a federal offense that applies to all vessels, including non-motorized vessels such as kayaks: 

It is deemed illegal in all 50 states and subject to US Coast Guard’s federal law, with strict penalties for those violating BUI laws. 

Most states – a total of 48 – have a legal BAC limit of 0.08%, except North Dakota and Wyoming, where the blood alcohol limit is 0.1%. It’s best to check what your state’s laws have to say on the matter, but generally speaking, yes, boating under the influence is illegal for kayakers, too. 

Canada Kayak BUI Laws

BUI - Canada, map with flag, clipping path, isolated on white, 3d illu

The Criminal Code of Canada recognizes kayaks, canoes, and other small, recreational boats as vessels subject to boating laws, including laws against boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs

What’s more, as far as the Criminal Code of Canada is concerned, drunk boating is, in essence, drunken driving (DUI). The fines and penalties remain the same, whether you’re on land or the water. 

If your BAC (blood alcohol concentration) is 0.08% or over, you’re considered “under the influence.” The same applies to anyone else on board the kayak. 

When Can You Legally Drink Alcohol On A Boat In Canada?

On a boat in Canada, you are permitted to drink alcohol if the vessel:

  • Has a fully equipped kitchen with permanent cooking facilities.
  • Has a permanent bathroom with a flushing toilet.
  • Has permanent sleeping quarters
  • The vessel is not underway; at anchor or moored at a dock/pier.
  • And, you are not the boat operator

UK Kayak BUI Laws

England map with flag

UK’s boating laws are slightly different and may even seem lenient and tolerant compared to most Western countries’ rules and regulations. 

How? 

Drinking and boating isn’t necessarily illegal in the UK and so you can’t get a dui on a kayak – at least not for recreational boaters operating water vessels less than 23 feet long. (23 feet is roughly 7 meters)

However, while kayakers are excluded from alcohol legislation regarding boating under the influence, they’re not entirely immune to them: 

If your actions and behavior while under the influence are perceived as dangerous to others, you can still be prosecuted

Australia Kayak BUI Laws

Australia 3D flag map on white isolated

Aussies generally seem chill and pretty laid back. However, Australia’s boating laws are anything but: 

Australia has a strict, zero-tolerance policy for boating under the influence. 

Drinking or being under the influence of drugs while the vessel is underway is considered an offense and leaves you subject to hefty penalties. 

And yes, that applies to you as a paddler, too: 

Kayaks and canoes are classified as vessels – and the same rules and regulations apply to boats of all sizes. If you’re going kayaking in Australia, leave the alcohol at home – or you will get a DUI. 

New Zealand Kayak BUI Laws

New Zealand map with flag inside and ribbon

Like Australia, New Zealand doesn’t care about the boat’s size and classifies kayaks as vessels that must comply with boating laws. If you figured that a trip from Australia to New Zealand would change anything, I’m sorry to burst your bubble: 

New Zealand’s rules regarding BUI are clear and apply to everyone, including recreational boaters and kayakers. 

Under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act, if you’re caught operating a boat – be it a yacht, paddle board, or kayak – in a manner that poses an unnecessary risk to others, you will be prosecuted and get a DUI. 

What’s The Penalty For BUI? 

Judges Or Auctioneer Gavel On The Dollar Cash Background, Top View, Close-Up. Concept For Corruption, Bankruptcy, Bail, Crime, Bribing, Fraud, BUI, DUI,  Fines

Most countries have laws regarding DUI – and, in this case, BUI. So, while you’ll probably get in trouble if you’re ever caught drinking and kayaking, the severity of the actual penalties for boating under the influence will vary

With that in mind, if you want to know what the penalty is for BUI, the best that I can give you are rough estimates by country; 

The Penalty For BUI In America?

In the United States, if you’re convicted of boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the penalties are as follows:

  • First Offense – First-time offenses are typically treated as misdemeanors that could cost you around $200 to $1000 in fines and land you in even jail for one to six months. You are also likely to have your kayak registration suspended for a period of time
  • Second Offense – If you get caught drinking and kayaking the second time, expect the fines to go up to $500 to $2000. You’re also looking at up to 12 months in jail. 
  • Third Offense (Repeat Offender) – Getting a BUI for the third time means that you’re now considered a repeat offender. Fines will range from $1000 to $3000, with the potential of spending up to two years in jail. 

The severity of DUI / BUI penalties also depends on the circumstances. For instance, having a minor on board or participating in a boating accident where others were injured or killed automatically turns a misdemeanor into a felony BUI

The Penalty for BUI in Canada

In Canada, although the maximum penalties will differ by province, if you’re convicted of boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the minimum penalties are as follows;

  • First Offense – A minimum fine of $600, you may also have your boating privileges suspended for some time.
  • Second Offense – 14 days imprisonment and a minimum fine of $600.
  • Third or Repeat Offenses – The severity of the penalties will depend on the circumstances, but expect to face at least 90 days in prison and a fine of $1000.

The Penalty for BUI in New Zealand

There’s no specific fixed penalty for boating under the influence (BUI) in New Zealand, but under the Maritime Transport Act 1994;

‘Every person commits an offence who….operates, maintains, or services; or….any ship or maritime product in a manner which causes unnecessary danger or risk to any other person or to any property, irrespective of whether or not, in fact, any injury or damage occurs’

Maritime Transport Act 1994

If convicted, you could be fined, jailed, or both.

  • Individuals – Could face up to a year in prison and/or a fine up to $10,000:
  • Corporate Entities – Can be issued with a fine up to £100,000

Remember: 

A BUI conviction can have severe criminal and civil consequences and may haunt you for life – long after you’ve paid your fines and settled all your legal obligations. 

How To Avoid A DUI (Besides The Obvious No-Drinking-While-Kayaking Rule)

Kayak DUI- Kayak BUI- Group of young Caucasian people drinking beer on a wooden pier.

Is that beer you were going to drink worth the hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of dollars in fines and potentially facing even jail time? 

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

The next obvious question is how to avoid a DUI when kayaking

You’ll probably call me Captain Obvious for pointing this out – that’s okay, I had it coming – but I consider not drinking when paddling or operating a watercraft a pretty fool-proof method of not getting a BUI. 

Other than the obvious, though, there are a few more things you could try to avoid a BUI

  • DO inform yourself about the local laws regarding drinking and kayaking and the potential penalties – especially if you plan to visit other countries.
  • DO remain respectful, polite, and cooperative if you encounter law enforcement.  
  • DO make plans to go out for drinks afterward, rather than to drink while paddling. 
  • DO give yourself a few hours before getting back to operating a kayak if you had a drink or two. 
  • DO give the non-alcoholic beer alternatives a try. 
  • DO let your kayaking partner take over until you’re no longer under the influence.
  • DO avoid bringing any alcoholic beverage on your kayak excursion altogether.  

Dangers Of Kayaking While Drunk: Why You Should NEVER Mix Drinking & Kayaking 

Canoeists resting after exercise and drinking beer sitting on water edge

DUI / BUI fines and possible jail time aside, there’s still plenty of good reasons to avoid boating under the influence. Safety – yours and those around you – should always come first! 

Alcohol remains the primary known contributing factor in boating accidents with fatal outcomes. A good reason why you and any passengers should always wear a PDF when out on a kayak or any other watercraft- without question or debate.  The dangers of not doing so seriously outweigh any perceived benefit.  Moreover, regulations in most states demand that one is worn at all times when out on a waterborne vessel.

How Does Alcohol Use Affect Boat Operators or Passengers

If the above was not a sobering enough fact, the following potential consequences might be: 

  • Poor CoordinationAlcohol can impair your psychomotor skills, such as maintaining balance or performing tasks that require coordination. With so much room for error, it becomes surprisingly easy to overturn your kayak by accident. 
  • Impaired Decision MakingDisrupting decision-making and rational thought often prompt you to act without thinking, take foolish and dangerous risks when under the influence. The problem is that alcohol also inhibits your ability to think – and act – quickly in situations when it’s needed most.
  • Slower Reaction Time – Your reaction times and general alertness are highly sensitive to alcohol consumption and may be impaired drastically, even at relatively low blood alcohol level. Considering that kayaking is one of those activities that require you to process – and react to – information as fast as possible, it’s easy to see why this is a bad combination.
  • Impaired Vision – An often underrated effect of alcohol is that it slows down the communication between your eyes and your brain. Alcohol lowers visual functions; this decrease leads to blurred or double vision, reduced peripheral vision, and impaired ability to distinguish colors.
  • Risk Of Hypothermia – Drinking alcohol and being drunk might make you feel all warm inside as alcohol widens your body vessels, causing increased blood flow to the skin – which gives you that flushed feeling. This can lead to more rapid heat loss, lowering your body temperature, especially when combined with strenuous activity such as kayaking. It also diminishes your body’s natural shivering response, increasing your hypothermia risk if you happen to fall in the water. 
  • Risk Of Drowning – Alcohol is unfortunately a frequently a component of recreational on-the-water activities, which, combined with the hazards mentioned above, makes it a significant risk factor in adult drowning deaths. Alcohol is detected in the blood of 30% to 70% of all drowning victims and those who die as a result of boating accidents. A dangerous combination and sobering fact. 

Can You Get A DUI In A Kayak? Final thoughts

We started things off with a simple question: 

Can you get a DUI on a kayak

And in short, yes, getting charged with a BUI / DUI is likely to happen if you’re ever caught boating while intoxicated – no matter where you are in the world. Most countries view drinking and boating as severe of an offense as drinking and driving. 

But other than the fines and possible jail time, the safety of others should be your primary concern: 

Being the rule-following killjoy in your group of paddling buddies doesn’t always come easy, but saying “No” to drinking when kayaking could – quite literally – save someone’s life. 

Have fun – drink responsibly – and stay safe doing it!

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Sam OBrien

As the founder of one of the top-ranking websites in its niche, WaterSportsWhiz.com, Sam has dedicated himself to educating people on water-based activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and diving. When he's not busy writing about water sports or testing out the latest gear, Sam can be found enjoying a good surf or kayak session with friends.