Here in Sumner County, Tennessee, we are blessed with Old Hickory Lake, the Cumberland River, the Red River, and many creeks and streams. Many boaters enjoy these waterways with their family and friends. Further, many boaters believe that water and alcohol “go together like peanut butter and jelly.” However, that could not be further from the truth. It is both ill advised and illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) has the authority to stop and board any boat that is subject to the State Boating Act. Citations may be issued or they may make an arrest without a warrant. Marked and unmarked TWRA boats are used. Boaters will be signaled to stop and allow the TWRA officer to come along side or board their boat.
It is unlawful for anyone to operate a boat of any kind while under the influence of any intoxicant including alcohol, marijuana, narcotic drugs, or prescription drugs. All persons operating a boat have given their implied consent to take a chemical , blood, or breathe test to determine the alcohol or drug content to their blood. Failure to give consent to a chemical, blood or breathe test is a separate offense called implied consent and may result in the suspension of the boat operating privileges of the boater for six (6) months. It is unlawful for any boater whose boat operating privileges have been suspended to operate a boat during the period of suspension.
If a person operating a boat has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or greater by weight of alcohol, then this shall constitute a violation of Tennessee Code Annotated § 69-9-217 Boating Under the Influence and the person is presumed to be under the influence. Further, it is presumed that his or her ability to operate a boat is impaired. If there is a boating accident and someone is killed or seriously injured, then a blood alcohol test is required in such cases.
If a boater is convicted of boating under the influence first offense, then they will be fined up to $2,500.00. A second offense will result in a $2,500.00 fine. A third offense will result in a $5,000.00 fine. Also, a jail sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days may be imposed for any conviction for boating under the influence. Finally, a boater’s operating privileges may be suspended from one (1) to ten (10) years, and federal penalties may also be charged.
The bottom line is that operating a boat and consuming alcohol or drugs don’t mix. If you are operating a boat, then don’t use any intoxicant at all or make sure you have a designated sober driver. If you follow this advice, then you can continue to enjoy all of the scenic waterways of Sumner County, Tennessee without fear of criminal prosecution. Have fun this summer and be safe!