can you drink while driving?

It’s nearly Memorial Day, which means plenty of South Carolinians will be celebrating the long weekend out on the water. However, it also raises the question, is it okay to drink while boating?

In South Carolina, determining this answer can be especially tricky, for two reasons:


  1. It is LEGAL in South Carolina to drink alcohol while operating a boat, since the state’s open container laws don’t apply on the water.
  2. HOWEVER, it is ILLEGAL in South Carolina to operate a boat while “under the influence of alcohol to the extent that the person’s faculties to operate are materially and appreciably impaired.”

Essentially, it only becomes illegal to drink while boating once the alcohol begins affecting you or you are over the legal limit, which is the same as when you are in a car (a BAC of 0.08% or higher). Keep in mind, you can still be considered “under the influence” even if your BAC is below the legal limit.

Because of South Carolina’s implied consent laws, if you are pulled over by law enforcement because you have been observed to be drinking while boating, expect to have to perform a breathalyzer test.

What Are the Penalties for a BUI in South Carolina?

If you are convicted of Boating Under the Influence (BUI), you will be fined and/or receive jail time (which may be commuted to community service for first or second offenses).

  • First Offense: $200 in fines, 48 hours jail time, and six-month boating privilege suspension
  • Second Offense: $1000-$5,000 in fines, 48 hours jail time, and 12-month boating privilege suspension
  • Third Offense: $3,500-$6,000 in fines, 60 days in jail or up to 3 years in prison, and 3-year boating privilege suspension

However, if you injure someone while boating under the influence, the penalties are far harsher.

If someone is injured in a BUI accident, the person at fault can be hit with:

  • $5,000-$10,000 in fines, and 30 days in jail to 15 years in prison

If someone is killed in a BUI accident, the person at fault can be punished with:

  • $10,000-$25,000 in fines, and 1-25 years in prison

Can I Sue If I Was Injured in a Boating Accident?

Criminal charges are only intended to punish people who break the law, but they don’t do much to help the victims. However, that’s why civil lawsuits exist–to offer victims of negligence a way to put their lives back together again.

So thankfully, the answer is yes: if you were injured in an accident caused by someone who was operating a boat while drunk, they can not only be hit with criminal charges, but they can also be sued for your damages, including:

  • Your medical expenses
  • Your lost wages (if you are temporarily or permanently unable to work as a result of your injuries)
  • Compensation for the physical pain and emotional suffering you experienced as a result of your injury
  • In the case of fatal injuries, funeral expenses

 What About If The Person Driving the Boat Wasn’t Over the Legal Limit?

If you are injured, or if someone you love is killed, in a South Carolina boating accident because of the boat operator’s negligence, it doesn’t matter if they were over the legal limit or not. They can still be held liable for your losses.

Even when below the legal limit, alcohol can negatively affect a person’s ability to drive by making it harder to judge what speed they are going, impairing their vision and coordination, reducing their attention span, and making them more likely to make reckless decisions.

When a driver, whether they are driving a car or a boat, acts recklessly or negligently and harms other people, they can be held liable.

Call the Experienced Boating Accident Attorneys at Joye Law Firm

At Joye Law Firm, we know all too well how quickly boating can turn dangerous, especially when the people operating the boat are inexperienced boaters and/or drinking while on the water.

Boating accidents can result in devastating injuries, many times disabling ones. Victims of boating accidents need a great amount of compensation to get back to as close a place as possible to how they were before the accident. And insurance companies often try to pay the bare minimum, which often isn’t nearly enough.

Our personal injury lawyers don’t let that happen. If you or someone you love is a victim of a boating accident, contact us today for a free case review to learn how we can help.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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