Boating While Intoxicated

Boating While Intoxicated closely resembles Iowa’s Operating While Intoxicated laws, with the legal limit being .08. It is also important to note that the Department of Transportation has no authority to suspend or revoke an individual’s motor vehicle driving privileges for a Boating While Intoxicated conviction or offense.

Proving Boating While Intoxicated

To prove a Boating While Intoxicated offense in the State of Iowa, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • Defendant Operated A Motorboat Or Sailboat;
  • On The Navigable Waters Of The State Of Iowa;
  • At the time the Defendant operated the motorboat or sailboat, he/she was under the influence of alcohol, drug or a combination thereof; OR
  • Had an alcohol concentration in excess of .08.

“Operation” is defined the same as in a normal Operating While Intoxicated case.

“Navigable waters” means: “all lakes, rivers, and streams, which can support a vessel capable of carrying one or more persons during a total of six months period in one out of every ten years.”

A “motorboat” means: “any vessel propelled by an inboard, inboard-outdrive, or outboard engine, whether or not such engine is the principal source of propulsion.”

A “sailboat” means: “any watercraft operated with a sail.”

Thus, one cannot be convicted of Boating While Intoxicated if operating a canoe, kayak, or other such motor-less and sail-less watercraft.


Criminal Penalties

The criminal penalties are the same as in normal Operating While Intoxicated cases with the exception that the mandatory minimum fines are different. Deferred Judgment eligibility is identical to OWI’s.

First Offense: Serious Misdemeanor
  • Jail up to one year but not less than 48 hours in jail;
  • Mandatory minimum fine of $1,000, however, at the discretion of the court, up $500 of the fine may be waived or the court can order the person to perform unpaid community service instead of paying the fine.
  • Court ordered prohibition of operating a motorboat or sailboat for one year.
  • Substance abuse evaluation and treatment if recommended.
Second Offense: Aggravated Misdemeanor
  • Up to 2 years in prison but not less than 7 days in jail.
  • Mandatory minimum fine of $1,500 but not more than $5,000.
  • Court ordered prohibition of operation of a motorboat or sailboat for two years.
  • Substance abuse evaluation and treatment if recommended.
Third Offense: Class D Felony
  • Up to 5 years in prison but not less than 30 days in jail.
  • Mandatory minimum fine of $2,500 but not more than $7,500.
  • Court ordered prohibition of operation of a motorboat or sailboat for six years.
  • Substance abuse evaluation and treatment if recommended.

Note: Prior Offenses (Convictions Or Deferred Judgments) For Boating While Intoxicated Within The Past 12 Years Will Be Used For Enhancement Purposes. However, Prior Operating While Intoxicated While In A Motor Vehicle Convictions Do Not Count As Prior Convictions Under This Section For Enhancement Purposes.

Civil Penalties


If convicted, the sentencing court imposes a restriction on the individual’s ability to operate a motorboat or sailboat in the State of Iowa for the applicable period of time.


If an individual arrested or suspected of Boating While Intoxicated refuses to submit to a chemical no test may be compelled. However, the court (not the Department of Transportation) is required to order that the person not operate a motorboat or sailboat for one year.  In addition, mandatory “civil penalties” are also required.

  • First Offense: $500
  • Second Offense: $1,000
  • Third Offense, $2,000

These penalties are in addition to those provided for if the person is convicted of the criminal offense.

WARNING:  There is a substantial likelihood that these provisions may violate the United States Constitution and Iowa State Constitutional prohibitions against Double Jeopardy!  Punishing an individual’s exercise of a constitutional right to refuse testing when no licensing is required to drive a boat or operate a sailboat may also violate the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1 Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution.

Contact a trial lawyer at our law firm today. We have the knowledge and energy to aggressively pursue your personal injury case. We offer free consultations and evening and weekend appointments.

Underage OWI

Iowa Minor Drinking & Driving Laws

There are two different types of legal problems that can arise for underage individuals that are stopped and investigated for operating while intoxicated.

First, they can be charged with any and all operating while intoxicated offenses just as a person over the age of 21 may be charged. In these situations they face the same penalties and same consequences as someone over the age of 21, assuming the person is 18 years of age or older.

Second, even if they provide a breath sample below .08 their driving privileges may be disqualified for what is commonly referred to as a “zero tolerance” violation. The “legal limit” for all criminal prosecutions in the State of Iowa for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated is .08. If a person under the age of 21 provides a breath sample in excess of .08 or is otherwise “under the influence” of alcohol, drug or a combination thereof, they will be charged with the normal operating while intoxicated offenses. However, individuals under the age of 21, there is a lower “legal limit” that applies only to license revocation proceedings. That level is .02.

Under 21 - Alcohol Content In Excess Of .02

In the event that a person provides a breath test and the test indicates an alcohol concentration in excess of .02 but less than .08, and they are under the age of 21, their driving privileges are disqualified for six months on a first offense, and they are not eligible for a temporary restricted license for 60 days from the start of the suspension.

Driver's License Suspension Immediate

Also, the department of transportation does not issue a stay for zero tolerance violations so the suspension starts immediately and cannot be put on hold.

Drunk Driving - Anatomy of an Investigation

Driving While Under the Influence

When determining if someone is “under the influence” the jury can consider the person’s driving, mannerisms, speech, appearance, emotional state, performance of field sobriety exercises, and anything else that may play a part in the above factors. Police officers are taught to observe and document everything they witness about an individual from the time they come into contact with the vehicle to the time they turn them over to jail staff if an arrest is made. A drunk driving investigation really has three primary stages from a police officer’s perspective.

Stage 1: Vehicle In Motion

The officer is watching a vehicle to determine if there is a sufficient basis to pull it over. For alcohol related investigations, officers are specifically trained to look for things such as weaving, inconsistent actions such as slowing down and speeding up or signaling one way but turning another, or failing to use headlights. They also pay close attention to how a person reacts to being pulled over. Officers document whether or not the person does not immediately pull over, whether they hit the curb, fail to signal, or even pull over too abruptly. Obviously, from the defense perspective, anything the person did correctly will also be highlighted to combat the officer’s claim that the person was intoxicated.

Stage 2: Personal Contact

At this stage of the investigation, the officer makes personal contact with the driver of the vehicle asking for license, registration and proof of insurance. One game officers like to play is to ask for multiple items at one time and while the person is retrieving those items, to ask them questions about where they are coming from and what they have been up to that evening. Law enforcement calls this a “divided attention task.” According to their theories, intoxicated individuals will have difficulty providing these items and answering questions at the same time. Other reasonable explanations would obviously be nerves, cluttered glove box, or a normal lack of attentiveness. Again, anything the person does correctly will be highlighted as evidence of sobriety. During this stage, the officer will also question the driver about whether or not they had consumed any alcohol and where they were coming from and where they were going. They also pay close attention to the driver’s eyes, breath and speech. Almost every officer’s report will claim that the arrested person had “bloodshot and watery eyes, slurred speech, and an odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from their person or breath” whether they really made those observations or not.

Stage 3: Pre-Arrest Screening

These are commonly referred to as field sobriety exercises. At this stage of the investigation, the officer has already determined that they suspect the person has consumed alcohol and claims to simply want to determine if the person is “ok to drive.” The normal statement from the officer is: “since you told me that you have been drinking, would you mind doing a few quick tests to make sure you are ok to drive?” If the person agrees, they are run through three “standardized field sobriety exercises”: 1) Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus; 2) Walk and Turn; and 3) One Leg Stand. These three “tests” are usually followed by a preliminary breath test.

Officers and ultimately the prosecution will pick apart everything and anything the person does in order to make them out to be a stumbling drunk. As you can see, from the minute a person comes into contact with the officer, every movement and statement is being scrutinized. This is why it is important to have an attorney who knows and understands what the officers look for so that their own investigation techniques can be used against them to provide evidence of sobriety.