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What is Operating a Motor Boat or Sailboat While Intoxicated in the State of Iowa? 

by David A. Cmelik Law PLC


​Boating while intoxicated (BWI) is the equivalent of operating while intoxicated (OWI) on navigable waters in the State of Iowa. It is governed by Iowa Code § 462A.14.

That section makes it illegal to “operat[e] a motorboat or sailboat while intoxicated:

a. While under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or other drug or a combination of such substances.

b. While having an alcohol concentration of .08 or more.

c. While any amount of a controlled substance is present in the person, as measured in the person’s blood or urine

This fairly closely tracks the definition of intoxication for purposes of OWI in the State of Iowa. However, key terms specific to BWI include:

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


2. What is a sailboat: “means any watercraft operated with a sail.”


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

Similar to Iowa’s OWI (DUI), or, drunk driving, statute, Iowa Code 462A.14A(1) provides that a law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe that a motor boat or sailboat operator is in violation of the drunk boating statute may request a bodily specimen—breath, blood, or urine.

The LEO may request a bodily specimen if any of the following are true: (1) peace officer has lawfully placed the person under arrest for drunk boating under Iowa Code § 462A.14; the motor boat or sail boat has been involved in an “occurrence resulting in personal injury or death”; the person refused a preliminary breath test (PBT); the person consented to a PBT and blew over .08 g ETOH/210 L breath and the officer has further reasonable grounds; the person consented to a PBT and blew under .08 g ETOH/210 L breath and the officer had other reasonable grounds to believe the person was under the influence of a controlled substance.

The penalty for refusing to provide a urine or breath test under these circumstances includes a revocation of the privilege to operate a motorboat or sailboat in the State of Iowa for one year on a first offense. A refusal to provide a blood sample is not deemed such a refusal.

“A refusal to submit to the test is punishable by a mandatory civil penalty of five hundred to two thousand dollars, and suspension of motorboat or sailboat operating privileges for at least a year.” Iowa Code § 462A.14A(g). Interestingly, “if the person submits to the test and the results indicate an alcohol concentration equal to or in excess of the level prohibited under section 462A.14 and the person is convicted, the person’s motorboat or sailboat operating privileges will be suspended for at least one year and up to six years.” This appears to differ from the administrative law governing driver’s licenses because the DOT will revoke a driver’s license regardless of conviction.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for BWI, OWI, or other Iowa alcohol or drug related offense, contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889 or https://www.daclawfirm.com. However, remember that a blog is not legal advice and that sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship. 

Boozed Boating If a law enforcement officer has reason to believe that the operator of a motor boat or sailboat on navigable waters in the State of Iowa is intoxicated or otherwise under the influence of a controlled substance, he or she may request a bodily specimen that could be used to prosecute such an operator for drunk boating in Iowa. If you or a loved one has been arrested for Boating While Intoxicated (BWI), Operating While Intoxicated (OWI), or other Iowa drug or alcohol related offense,  contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889.

1450 Boyson Road Suite C-2A Hiawatha, Iowa 52233     319-389-1889

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