Louisiana's Boating While Intoxicated Laws

Read about the consequences of boating while intoxicated (BWI) in Louisiana.

By Josha Egan

Louisiana law prohibits operating a watercraft or vessel while intoxicated by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two. A person can be convicted of boating while intoxicated (BWI), sometimes called boating under the influence (BUI), for operating a watercraft while:

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol, meaning “impairment, however slight, to the ability of a person to operate” a watercraft, or
  • having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater.

(State v. Reeder, 189 So. 3d 401 (2015); La. Rev. Stat. Ann.  § 14:98 (2016).)

BWI Penalties

The consequences of a Louisiana BWI mainly depend on the offender's BAC and number of prior BWI convictions.

For purposes of determining whether a BWI is a first or subsequent offense, all the following count as prior convictions:

  • DWI and BWI (including out-of-state convictions)
  • vehicular homicide
  • third degree feticide
  • vehicular negligent injuring, and
  • first degree vehicular injuring.

(La. Rev. Stat. Ann.  § 14:98 (2016).)

BWI penalties might include fines, jail time, and driver’s license suspension. For instance, for a first BWI with a BAC of .2% or greater, an offender generally faces $700 to $1,000 in fines, at least 48 hours in jail, and a two-year license suspension. (La. Rev. Stat. Ann.  § 14:98.1(A)(3) (2016).)

See Louisiana BWI Penalties for more about the consequences of a BWI conviction in Louisiana.

Affirmative Defenses

Louisiana's BWI statute provides affirmative defenses for certain types of BWI charges.

One such defense involves prescription-drug labeling. The defense applies to BWI suspects accused of being under the combined influence of a prescription drug and alcohol. Such a suspect can escape conviction by showing that the manufacturer's packaging did not contain a warning against combining the medication with alcohol. (La. Rev. Stat. Ann.  § 14:98(d)(ii) (2016).)

Another defense is available to suspects accused of boating under the influence of only a prescription drug. The defense is that the defendant took the drug, but didn’t “knowingly” take significantly more than the doctor prescribed or manufacturer recommended. For example, suppose James takes four anti-anxiety pills when his prescription directs that he only take two. He might have a valid defense if he can convince a jury that he honestly—but mistakenly—believed his doctor told him to take four. (La. Rev. Stat. Ann.  § 14:98(e)(ii) (2016).)


Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to an Attorney

If you’ve been arrested for or charged with boating under the influence in Louisiana, get in contact with an experienced BWI attorney. The facts of every case are different. A good BWI attorney should be able to explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on your best course of action.

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