Michigan Boating Under the Influence (BUI), Operating a Watercraft Under the Influence


Map of Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River, Detroit River and Bordering Communities

Lake St. Clair, Detroit River, St. Clair River 

In Michigan, operating a watercraft, including a jet ski, while intoxicated or impaired is a crime. Michigan laws pertaining to Boating under the Influence (BUI) or Boating While Impaired (BWVI) are similar to drunk driving laws which pertain to operation of motor vehicles of public roads. In particular, the State of Michigan has adopted the same blood alcohol content threshold for BUI that has existed for OWI in a motor vehicle (BAC .08%). This publication will focus on Boating Under the Influence (BUI) cases that arise on Lake St. Clair and its tributaries; the St. Clair River and the Detroit River. This publication is based upon the experience of our Macomb County criminal defense attorneys handling BUI cases in all of the jurisdictions that are evident in the above map (Macomb County, St. Clair County and the Grosse Pointe Municipal Courts.

It is said that a great lake is never more than 85 miles from anywhere you may be in the State of Michigan. In addition to the great lakes, there is Lake St. Clair that covers a surface area of approximately 430 square miles.  Although not classified as a ‘great lake’, Lake St. Clair covers a surface area of 275,000 acres, which is greater than combined surface areas of Houghton Lake (20,000 acres), Burt Lake (18,000 acres), Lake Charlevoix (17,000 acres) and Torch Lake (18,000 acres).

The shoreline of Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River are dotted with lake front residences and businesses which cater to the boating industry and lifestyle.  The following cities are on the Macomb County, Wayne County and St. Clair County borders of Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River are:

  • Macomb County: Fair Haven, New Baltimore, Harrison Township and St. Clair Shores
  • St. Clair County: Algonac, Marine City, East China, St. Clair and Port Huron
  • Wayne County: Grosse Pointe Shores, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Park

Lake Saint Clair has one of the greatest number of recreation watercraft registrations in the United States. The cities and towns along the rivers and Lake St. Clair are home to Metro Beach, Memorial Park, several marinas (Miller Marina, Jefferson Beach, Belle Maer Harbor, MacRay Harbor), the Eleanor and Edsel Ford Estate (Ford’s Cove), popular bars and restaurants (Mike’s, Brownies on the Lake, Bumpers Landing, Charlies River Crab). There is also an abundance of activity that make this region a big attraction for boating enthusiasts: Jobbie Nooner, Port Huron/Mackinac Race, Fish Fly Festival and fireworks displays.

Lake St. Clair & the St. Clair River Have Several Police Agencies that Monitor Recreational Boating Activity

The United States side of Lake St. Clair is policed by the Marine Units of the Macomb County and St. Clair County Sheriffs’ Departments, the United States Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Natural Resources. Jurisdiction for crimes which occur on Lake St. Clair or the St. Clair River, such as Boating Under the Influence (BUI),  will depend on the location of the incident in proximity to the shoreline. In Macomb County, BUI cases are prosecuted at the 42-2 District Court located at 35071 23 Mile Road, New Baltimore, Michigan 48047.  For cases in St. Clair County, BUI cases and other watercraft violations are handled at the 72nd District Court at either the Marine City or Port Huron locations. Offenses occurring along the shores of Grosse Pointe are handled in their respective courts.

Boating Under the Influence: BUI depends upon the BAC (Blood Alcohol Content)

Similar to DUI cases that involve motor vehicles, a BUI will depend on whether the person charged is determined to be under the influence. In Michigan, you can be convicted of Boating Under the Influence (BUI), regardless of your intoxication or impairment, if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is at the statutory legal threshold of .08% or greater. BAC is determined by a breath, urine or blood sample.


To learn more about the testing process, we have a publication dedicated to the topic of Chemical Tests for Alcohol, Drugs, BAC.

Penalties for BUI in Michigan: Possible Jail and Loss of Boating Privileges

First Offense Boating Under the Influence

  • Up to 93 days in jail
  • Up to 45 days community service
  • Up to 2 years probation,
  • Fines ranging from $100.00 to $500, plus court costs and law enforcement costs
  • Suspension of boating privileges from 1 to 2 years in the court’s discretion

Second Offense Boating Under the Influence (within 7 years of a prior offense)

  • 10 to 90 days community service and up to 1 year in jail or 48 hours to 1 year in jail and up to 90 days community service,
  • Up to 2 years probation,
  • Fines ranging from $100.00 to $500, plus court costs and law enforcement costs
  • Mandatory suspension of boating privileges for at least 2 years

BUI Causing Injury or Death: You can be charged with a felony that carries up to 5 years in prison If you are accused of operating a watercraft under the influence causing an injury to another party. If a BUI causes death, the penalty is increased to a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine ranging from $2,500 to $10,000.

Contacting an attorney should be your first priority if you are charged with any crime.  Our experienced criminal defense lawyers are available to provide you with complete representation if you are facing a criminal offense that involves the use of a watercraft. Most of the time, the person charged with a watercraft violation is someone who is responsible and does not have a prior criminal record. A BUI is a serious legal matter and there may be ways to fight the case or seek a substantial reduction of the charge with a reduced penalty.

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