Nevada "Boating under the Influence" (BUI) Laws (NRS 488.410)
Explained by Las Vegas DUI Defense Attorneys

Drunk boating in Nevada is treated similarly to drunk driving.  As long as no one gets hurt it's usually a misdemeanor . . . otherwise, it can be a serious felony with lengthy prison sentences.

Whether your BUI was in Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe or elsewhere in the state, our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers will draw on their decades of experience to ensure that your case gets resolved as favorably as possible.

Definition (NRS 400.410; NRS 400.450)

The legal definition of boating under the influence in Nevada is "to operate or be in actual physical control of a vessel under power or sale on the waters of this State" while being either drunk, high, or having a BAC of at least 0.08.

Similar to Las Vegas DUI laws, anyone with a BAC of 0.08 or more may be arrested for violating "boating under the influence in Nevada" laws irrespective of whether they were driving the vessel safely and under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  Also similar to Nevada drunk driving laws, anyone suspected of BUI is required to submit to a chemical test.


If you've been charged with BUI in Nevada, remember that being accused is not the same as being found guilty.  There are several effective defenses your attorney can employ to weaken the state's case:

  • You weren't the driver.  When patrolling a lake or river, the water police often see boats from a very long distance and cannot tell who is piloting it.  Perhaps the police thought they saw you operating the boat when really it was another passenger.  If the prosecutor can't show that you were the operator, the case should be dismissed.
  • The field sobriety tests results were meaningless.  Water police order people suspected of BUI to perform the same walking and balancing tests that they do in drunk driving cases.  The "walk and turn" test and "one leg stand" test are difficult enough to perform on solid ground, and they're downright impossible on an unsteady boat.  Your attorney can argue that law enforcement was wrong to arrest you because the field sobriety tests were not accurate indicators of being under the influence.
  • You were not under the influence.  Often the police breathalyzer equipment is defective or they administer the test wrong.  Or perhaps you have a medical condition that caused a high BAC reading.  Through a thorough investigation of your case, your attorney can help raise doubts about the efficacy of the state's evidence.
  • Timing of the drinking.  You did not commit BUI if you did not begin drinking or using controlled substances until after you ceased operating the vessel.  If the prosecutor can't show that the boating was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, this charge should be thrown out.
  • No causation.  In Nevada BUI causing injury or death cases, your attorney would argue that the fatality or harm was not caused by your boating, or that the victim was more at fault in the accident than you.

Most Nevada BUI cases are charged as misdemeanors. But they can be treated as felonies if the state believes the incident resulted in the injury or death of another person or if the suspect already had a past felony drunk boating conviction.  BUIs are not priorable as DUIs in Las Vegas.

Simple misdemeanor BUI  (NRS 488.410; NRS 488.427)

If no one gets injured or killed, boating under the influence in Nevada is usually punished as a misdemeanor carrying the following:

  • up to six months in jail, and/or
  • up to $1,000 in fines.

However, boating under the influence in Las Vegas may be charged as a category B felony if the defendant already was convicted of BUI causing death or injury.  The penalties would include:

  • 2 to 15 years in prison, and
  • $2,000 to $5,000 in fines

BUI with death or injury  (NRS 488.420; NRS 488.425)

When an alleged BUI incident in Nevada results in substantial bodily harm or death, then the state will prosecute it as a category B felony.  The sentence includes:

  • 2 to 20 years in prison, and
  • $2,000 to $5,000 in fines

And if a person suspected of BUI with death in Nevada already has three (3) past boating under the influence convictions, then the state may bring "homicide by vessel" charges.  It's a category A felony carrying twenty-five years or life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 10 years.

Special felony BUI sentencing rules

  • Clark County judges are not allowed to grant probation or suspended sentences for Nevada felony BUI convictions.
  • Anyone convicted of Nevada felony BUI will probably be kept in a minimum security facility and segregated from violent offenders.
  • If a child less than 15 years old was in the boat at the time of the defendant's alleged Las Vegas BUI violation, the court will consider that as an aggravating factor when deciding the sentence of the defendant.

License information

Nevada does not require boating licenses to operate a vessel.  Most Las Vegas boating violations should not jeopardize your driver's license.

Plea bargain

Your attorney's goal will be to get your Nevada BUI charge dismissed completely . . . but in case the prosecutors won't cooperate, they may agree to at least reduce the charge to "reckless or negligent boating" (NRS 488.400).  It's just a misdemeanor and carries less of a stigma than boating under the influence in Las Vegas.

Call us for help . . .

If you've been arrested for boating under the influence in Nevada, call our Las Vegas DUI defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free meeting.  Our mission is to try to get your BUI charges reduced or dismissed as quickly as possible.

Also see our article on DUI in a golf cart.

To learn about California BUI laws, go to our informational article on California BUI laws.

Nevada BUI Defense Lawyer Disclaimer: The boating under the influence, BUI, drunk boating or other DUI defense information presented at this site should not be considered formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Any results set forth here were dependent on the facts of that case and the results will differ from case to case. Please contact a Nevada drunk boating defense lawyer or attorney for a free initial consultation. This website is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of Nevada.

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