Whether you’re heading out to Lake Travis for the weekend or Galveston for some early morning fishing, you should familiarize yourself with the laws on boating while intoxicated in Texas before having a drink on the water.

Mark Thiessen, founding attorney of Thiessen Law Firm, is Triple Board Certified in DWI Defense Law by the National College for DUI Defense, DUI Law by the DUI Defense Lawyers Association, and Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mark knows that being charged with boating while intoxicated (BWI), just like driving while intoxicated, can get complicated fast, and he is here to explain some things that he thinks you should know about BWIs in Texas. If you do find yourself facing a BWI in Texas, call Mark Thiessen ASAP at 713-903-7866 for top-quality representation.

Can you drink alcohol while boating in Texas?

Unlike in a car, it is perfectly legal to consume alcohol while out on the water. According to open container law in Texas, having an open container in a boat is perfectly legal not only for the passengers, but for the operator of the watercraft (as long as you keep it within the legal limit). 

DWI and BWI in Texas are similar in that they are defined as being “legally intoxicated while operating either a vehicle or a watercraft.” The term legally intoxicated is defined as either not having normal use of mental or physical faculties OR a BAC of .08 or greater. This does not mean, however, that the passengers of the boat are immune to the laws of the land. Passengers can still be charged for public intoxication/disorder even if the captain is stone cold sober.

Marine field sobriety tests (aka “float tests”) 

Safety patrols, while put in place to keep you safe, could saddle a responsible boater with a BWI charge based on aggressive tactics and dubious science –– namely marine field sobriety tests called “float tests.” The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) created these seated battery tests because the standard field sobriety tests from the ’70s were much less reliable on the water. Their goal with the creation of these new tests was to increase officer effectiveness in combating BWIs, but just increased their effectiveness at making immediate arrests with rudimentary tests. These new sobriety tests could make the waterways safer, but they leave room for unlawful arrests based on lay science.

Continue reading: To blow or not to blow?

Is boating while intoxicated the same as a DWI?

There are a few important differences between a BWI and a DWI in Texas, both in how they are handed out and in how they are punished. The first difference is how easy it is to get one. Law enforcement officers and game wardens, often waiting by the dock in a marina and watching boats load in, are legally able to stop your watercraft to perform a water safety check. This includes checking for the correct number of life jackets, fire extinguishers, and emergency equipment, but can extend to questions about alcohol consumption and the safety therein. 

If they suspect alcohol — which is perfectly legal to have on a boat — is being imbibed in dangerous quantities, they can submit the boating party to take field sobriety tests. Be aware that after a day out on the water, whether you have had too much to drink or not, you can appear intoxicated to law enforcement due to factors like sun damage and fatigue – and remember that the tests administered are designed specifically to facilitate the arrests of boaters.

BWI in Texas penalties   

The penalties for BWI are similar to DWI in Texas. They carry steep penalties that will only go up with any harm done to other individuals or previous convictions. Like DWI, with boating while intoxicated, jail time is often on the table.




First offense – Class B misdemeanor


180 days

First offense with serious injury – Third-degree felony


10 years

First offense with death –  Second-degree felony


20 years

Second offense (BWI or DWI) – Class A misdemeanor


1 year

Third offense (BWI or DWI) – Third-degree felony


20 years

Consequences are not limited to those of the legal variety when it comes to boating and drinking. As Houston BWI lawyers, we have seen exactly how things can go wrong because of boating while intoxicated. Again, though it is perfectly legal to drink while boating under the legal limit, it is important to note that alcohol has been involved in the majority of fatal boating accidents. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, having a blood alcohol concentration above 0.10 makes you ten times more likely to die in a boating accident. Mark Thiessen wants to make sure you return from your next fishing trip in one piece!

Drinking brings specific dangers while out on the water that aren’t present on land. It affects balance (which is already compromised on the water) and lowers your body temperature, which can lead to a more rapid onset of hypothermia if you happen to fall into cold water. Do not let the famous legend of the drunken cook who survived the frigid waters of the North Atlantic after the sinking of the Titanic fool you; you are way more likely to be fatally chilled and drowned thanks to overconsumption than to be saved by it. 

It is also important to bring plenty of food and water, and remember that being on the water is far more exhausting than being on land: a distance that a sober man could easily swim may tire a drunk man out far faster – and with fatal consequences. Of those many accidents that are attributed to drinking while boating, most of the deaths occurred from drowning.

Charged with a BWI in Texas? Mark Thiessen will Defend Your Freedom.

There is really only one thing to do after being charged with boating while intoxicated in Texas, and that is to hire a skilled BWI Houston lawyer to help protect your freedom. As a Forensic Lawyer-Scientist designated by the American Chemical Society-Chemistry and the Law (ACS-CHAL), Mark Thiessen knows that the best way to fight a system that works against you is to make the science work for you. 

Keep calm and call the team at Thiessen Law Firm at 713-864-9000 or schedule a free consultation online. 

More Helpful Articles by Thiessen Law Firm:

Thiessen Law Firm

Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.