3 Things To Know About BUI In Virginia | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

During the summer months in Virginia, boating under the influence (BUI) becomes a very serious problem. In fact, just recently, a member of the York County Board of Supervisors was arrested for BUI with a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of .08%, when the Virginia Marine Police pulled him over as District 3 Supervisor Chad Green was driving home after dinner from a waterfront restaurant. Even Virginia politicians sometimes fail to take BUI as seriously as they should. 

But everyone who pilots a boat in Virginia should know that the Virginia Conservation Police are especially on the lookout for drunk boaters during the summer months. And if you are caught – and worse, hurt another person while BUI – there can be serious criminal and civil consequences.

If you or someone you know has been injured by an intoxicated boater in Virginia, there are several important things to know. They are:

#1 Many BUI Accidents Result in Serious or Fatal Injuries

Just as with DUI accidents, the results of a BUI accident can be serious and even deadly. Drinking while operating a watercraft can in some ways be even more dangerous than drinking and driving. Environmental stressors with boating, such as boat rocking, sun, wind, and noise can intensify the effects of alcohol.

Some of the most common types of personal injuries in boating accidents include traumatic brain injury and concussion, spinal cord injury, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and drowning/brain damage through immersion in water.

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#2 Boating Under the Influence Can Be Both a Criminal and Civil Case

The Code of Virginia 29.1-738 states that operating a watercraft when one’s blood alcohol level is above .08% is a Class 1 misdemeanor. Criminal penalties can include a jail term up to 12 months, a fine of $2500, and loss of your boating license for up to three years.

But that is not all. Boating accidents due to alcohol often result in very serious injuries. If you or a loved one has been hurt or killed in a BUI accident, you may have the right to sue the responsible party in civil court for compensatory damages.

State law stipulates that you may be entitled to the following types of damages:

  • Economic Medical bills, lost earnings, loss of future earnings, and/or loss of ability to earn income in the future
  • Non-economic: Pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other types of damages that are not quantifiable

Also, know that a boating accident case can fall under either federal maritime law or Virginia state law, depending upon where the accident occurred.

#3 Boating Under the Influence Lawsuits Can Result In Sizable Settlements

According to an April 18, 2018, US News and World Report story, the parents of Richmond man who died in a boating accident reached a $4 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit they filed last year. The family sued the deceased’s friend, accusing him of smashing his boat on a bulkhead while he was drunk. The deceased, Graham McCormick, was thrown into the water and drowned. 

Under Virginia law, a wrongful death action can be initiated when the death of a person is caused by a wrongful act or neglect, such as BUI or DUI. In this state, spouses and children have the first right to file suit, followed by parents, brothers, and sisters.


While boating accidents take fewer lives than decades ago, there were still 651 fatal boating accidents in 2012, according to the US Coast Guard. Anyone who is injured or loses a loved one due to a BUI accident or any type of boating accident should remember they may have the right to compensation in civil court under Virginia law.