New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) law imposes substantial penalties for offenses, including driver’s license suspension, fines, and even jail time in some cases. New Jersey also has a law that deals with boating while intoxicated (BWI) and imposes similar penalties. The similarities do not stop there. Just like with DWI, people who operate certain types of watercraft on New Jersey waterways have given implied consent to submit breath samples to police, which they will use to measure blood alcohol content (BAC). Refusal to submit to breath testing for suspected BWI is a separate offense. The penalties are similar to those in New Jersey DWI refusal cases.
A person commits BWI if they operate “a power vessel or a vessel which is 12 feet or greater in length” while intoxicated. A “vessel” is any type of watercraft. A “power vessel” is one that does not rely solely on “sails or…muscular power” for propulsion. A person who operates a motorboat while under the influence, therefore, commits BWI no matter the size of the watercraft. If that same person is operating a canoe, kayak, or sailboat, on the other hand, state law probably would not consider it to be BWI unless the craft was at least twelve feet long. That said, other boating laws and regulations might apply if someone is operating a large sailboat in a reckless manner.
A member of the New Jersey State Police or a local law enforcement officer can instruct a person operating any type of watercraft covered by the BWI statute to submit a breath sample. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. State law establishes procedures that police must follow in order to collect breath samples. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in State v. Chun requires police to meet additional requirements when using an Alcotest device in BWI cases.