A Charlestown man was arraigned in Boston Municipal Court yesterday and charged with drunkenly operating his boat in the Boston Harbor after one of his passengers fell overboard and had her arm severed when she became entangled with the propeller.
The defendant was charged with operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol (and causing serious bodily injury) and negligent operation of a boat. A judge initially set bail at $75,000 cash, but according to the Boston Globe the bail was reduced today to $10,000. The victim, a 19-year-old woman, was taken to the hospital and is recovering from her injuries. Multiple news outlets reported a chaotic scene where 14 people were in the defendant’s 29-foot boat. The victim jumped into the water to retrieve a seat cushion that had fallen into the Harbor and was injured when she attempted to climb back on board. Multiple other passengers jumped into the water after the victim lost her arm and law enforcement personnel responded shortly thereafter to the boat’s request for help. A search was conducted for the victim’s arm, but it was not recovered.
The defendant was reportedly drunk and belligerent when he spoke to the authorities who boarded his boat and initially declined to take any field sobriety tests or the Breathalyzer. However, four hours after the accident the defendant agreed to take the Breathalyzer and blew a .09, which is slightly over the legal limit of .08. The police obtained a search warrant for the boat and recovered large quantities of alcohol.
The defendant cannot be convicted of operating under the influence simply because he owns the boat, or because he was on the deck. The Commonwealth will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was actually operating the boat while he was under the influence of alcohol. Interestingly, the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office agreed that the reduction in bail was appropriate while authorities investigate the “full extent of the defendant’s operation and control of the boat.” It sounds as though the defendant may claim that he was not operating the boat at the time of the accident, which would relieve him of criminal liability.
Following the news coverage of this horrible tragedy, I had several people tell me that they did not realize the OUI laws apply to boats. While there are not nearly as many OUI arrests for boaters as there are for motorists, the substance of the law is the same for both. If you are caught piloting your boat and you are drunk, you will be arrested and prosecuted. While it’s harder for law enforcement authorities to police the waters for drunk boaters, it’s not uncommon for people to be charged with drunkenly driving their boats.
If you are being investigated by the police or some other law enforcement authority for operating your boat under the influence of alcohol, you should respectfully decline to take the field sobriety tests. The field sobriety tests are designed to make you look intoxicated and are very difficult to pass. Further, if you think there is any chance you are above the legal limit of .08, you should seriously consider declining to take the Breathalyzer. While your license will be initially suspended for a longer period of time, the lack of a Breathalyzer reading will benefit you at the trial.