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Summer Is Here and So Are BUI Patrols


Summer is here, the weather is warm, and the water is blue and inviting. If you’re a boater, you probably spend the rest of the year looking forward to the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The opportunities on the water are endless. You can enjoy jet skiing, fishing, water skiing, or simply tossing an anchor and enjoying a sunny afternoon with friends. But let’s be real: sunny summer days often go hand in hand with certain beverages. And many of these beverages can get you in trouble if you combine them with operating a boat. Boating Under the Influence, or BUI, has always been illegal in Rhode Island. But it used to be that you could get away with it because enforcement was lax. Not anymore. Rhode Island has increased BUI patrols in recent years. And several law enforcement groups are participating in the effort.

Who conducts BUI patrols in Rhode Island?

BUI law enforcement in Rhode Island falls to three groups. The Rhode Island State Police, the Department of Environmental Management, and harbormasters around the state all patrol for BUIs. You could be subject to arrested if caught drinking and boating by any of the three.

Rhode Island State Police

Unlike city and county police forces, the Rhode Island State Police is a state agency. Whereas a police officer from Newport can’t arrest you for a crime in Providence, State Police officers enjoy statewide jurisdiction. You can find State Police everywhere in Rhode Island. But they focus on areas that don’t receive enough protection from their local police. These areas include the state’s rural reaches and interstate highways.

State Police also have jurisdiction over Rhode Island’s state waterways. They take a leading role in enforcing boating laws, including BUI patrols.

Department of Environmental Management

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) controls the state’s natural resources. These include trees, rocks, plants, and water. They also include the state’s wildlife, such as birds, fish, and reptiles.

Since the water you boat on is a natural resource, it falls under RIDEM’s purview. The department’s officers, known as Environmental Police, patrol the waterways on boats. This includes doing BUI patrols. They can be hard to distinguish from State Police officers. But know that an officer of either agency can arrest you and charge you with BUI.


Harbormasters represent the third group of people who conduct BUI patrols and can charge you with the offense. These people enforce the areas around harbors or ports. They ensure boaters are complying with the harbor or port’s regulations. Though they aren’t police officers, they have the right to detain you or board your vessel if they suspect illegal activity. They can hold you until the police arrive to take over.

What to Do If Approached by Law Enforcement

If any of the above groups approaches you while on the water, there are some things you should know. First, you must stop when someone with enforcement authority tells you to. If you keep moving or try to evade, you are breaking the law. Second, if they wish to board your boat or vessel, they are allowed to.

BUI Enforcement Tactics

The agencies that enforce BUI laws are stepping up their tactics. One way they’re doing so is by increasing their presence and visibility. Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, you’ll see more enforcement officers on the water this summer.

The agencies hope their increased BUI patrols will encourage many boaters from imbibing. After all, prevention is better than punishment after the fact. But for those who don’t get the message, the chance of arrest, thanks to increased law enforcement presence, is steadily rising.

BUI Penalties in Rhode Island

If you imbibe while BUI patrols are happening, a good chance exists you’ll be arrested and charged. You can expect the following penalties for a BUI in Rhode Island.

First Offense

The penalty for a first offense depends on your blood alcohol content or BAC. A first offense with a low BAC results in a civil violation and not a criminal charge. You’ll pay a fine and have your boating privileges suspended for 45 days.

Higher BACs result in misdemeanor charges. These lead to higher fines and up to a year in jail. You’ll also have your boating privileges suspended for at least three months.

Second Offense

A second offense BUI is a misdemeanor regardless of your BAC. You’ll face higher fines, up to a year in jail, and no boating privileges for up to two years. Also, the judge may order you to complete substance abuse treatment.

Third Offense

A third offense BUI is a felony. You can go to jail for as long as five years and pay as much as $5,500 in fines. You’ll face mandatory substance abuse treatment and lose your boating privileges for at least three years.

If you’ve been charged with BUI in Rhode Island, you need to speak to a qualified attorney. The law is nuanced, and your case probably has wrinkles you’re not aware of. A good BUI lawyer in Rhode Island can steer you to the best outcome.

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