Can You Get a DUI/OVI in a Canoe in Ohio?

Canoe-Waterfall-Sign-300x200As recently reported by CTV News, a man is facing criminal charges for canoeing while drunk.  According to the news report, officers were called to Christina Lake on the report of an intoxicated person.  When the officers arrived, the man hid under a dock, and an officer went into the water bring him out.  The officers arrested the man and charged him with impaired operation of the canoe.  This incident occurred in British Columbia, but could someone in Ohio be charged with DUI/OVI in a canoe?

Ohio’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Law
Ohio has different laws for operating ‘vehicles’ and ‘vessels’ under the influence.  While Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19 prohibits operating a ‘vehicle’ under the influence or ‘over the limit’, Ohio Revised Code section 1547.11 prohibits operating a ‘vessel’ under the influence or ‘over the limit’.

That section is commonly referred to as ‘Boating Under the Influence’ (BUI), but it applies to more than boats.  It applies to ‘any vessel’, as well as water skis, aquaplanes, and ‘similar devices’.  According to Ohio Revised Code section 1546.01, a ‘vessel’ includes “every description of craft, including non-displacement craft, multimodal craft, and submersibles, being used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water”.  A canoe is a craft capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.  Therefore, a canoe is a vessel, so Ohio’s BUI law applies to canoes.

What Must Be Proven for a Charge of ‘Boating Under the Influence’
To convict a defendant of BUI, whether it involves a canoe or another type of vessel, the prosecution must prove:

  • The defendant operated a vessel or was in physical control of a vessel
  • AND
    • The defendant was under the influence of alcohol and/or a drug of abuse
    • OR
    • The defendant was ‘over the limit

‘Operate’ means the person moved or caused movement of the vessel.  ‘Under the influence’ means alcohol and/or drugs affected the person’s brain, nervous system or muscles in a way which would impair the person’s ability to operate the vessel.  ‘Over the limit’ means the person had a prohibited concentration of alcohol and/or drugs in the person’s blood, breath, urine, or oral fluid.

What are the Penalties for ‘Boating Under the Influence’?
BUI is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor which carries a jail term up to six months, a fine up to $1,000, and probation (aka ‘community control) for up to five years.  For a first offense, there is a mandatory three days in jail or a driver intervention program.  If the defendant has one prior BUI or OVI conviction within ten years, the mandatory minimum jail term is ten days.  If the defendant has two (or more) prior BUI or OVI convictions within ten years, the mandatory minimum jail term is 30 days, and the maximum jail term is one year.  A conviction of BUI counts as a prior offense if the defendant is later convicted of OVI.

Think Twice Before Drinking in a Canoe
While it may be surprising, a person in Ohio can be charged with BUI in a canoe.  A canoe is a vessel, so the law prohibits operating a canoe while ‘under the influence’ or ‘over the limit’.  As the penalties for BUI are significant, a person charged with BUI may choose to contest the charge and assert defenses.  The defenses for BUI are generally the same as the defenses to OVI.

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