One of the most serious boating offenses is boating while intoxicated (sometimes referred to as "BWI"). Like the drunk driver of the highways, the drunk driver of the waterways is a threat to himself or herself, to passengers, and to others. As with many boating violations, boating while intoxicated is both a state and federal offense.
Under Indiana state law, the offense is a Class C misdemeanor but can range to a Class D felony for a second offense or if serious bodily injury results to another person or to a Class C felony if the offense results in the death of another person. Relevant evidence of intoxication results where blood alcohol is as little as 0.05%. A person who refuses to submit to a blood alcohol test may also be arrested. For further details concerning BWI under state law, see IC 14-15-8.
The federal offense is operating a vessel while intoxicated. For further details, see 33 CFR 95.
Two separate state law sections deal with the requirement that a person operate a boat in a careful and prudent manner. A third prohibits operations which may endanger others. As provided in IC 14-15-3-3, a person must operate a boat "in a careful and prudent manner, having due regard" for the property and safety of others, conditions and hazard caused by weather or traffic congestion, and possible injury to the person or property of others. As provided in IC 14-15-3-7, a person may not operate at a "rate of speed" greater than is reasonable and prudent for conditions and hazards. As provided in IC 14-15-3-6, a person may not operate a boat in a way that "endangers the person or property of another" or "interferes with the safe and lawful use of public waters by another person." Failure to operate in a careful and prudent manner is a Class C infraction, and endangering another is a Class C misdemeanor. For further details concerning these offenses see IC 14-15-3.
On Indiana waters (including the open waters of Lake Michigan), a person who operates a boat at greater than ten miles per hour, between sunset and sunrise, commits a Class C infraction. IC 14-15-3-8. As indicated in the following section, within 200 feet of the Lake Michigan shoreline, a person must not operate a boat (day or night) in excess of five miles per hour.
Within 200 feet of the shoreline of Lake Michigan, a person must not operate a motorboat at a speed greater than idle speed-for most practical purposes five miles per hour. This restriction also applies on Wolf Lake and other Indiana Lakes. Within this near-shore zone, the only legal boating operations are for trolling or to leave or enter a dock, pier, or wharf. For more details, see IC 14-15-3-17. Informational buoys are often placed to assist the boater in identifying the 200-foot near-shore zone, but the existence of these buoys is not required to establish the offense. Where these informational buoys exist, they are white and marked with an orange rectangle and black lettering. Uniform buoy markers used for navigation aids are illustrated at 312 IAC 5-4-6
Through an agreement between the U.S. Coast Guard and Indiana, and as provided by state statute, zones have been designated by rule on public waters where boating activities are limited or restricted. For the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan, no-boat zones have been established along several areas in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties, mostly to protect users of swimming beaches. A person who operates a boat within a no-boat zone commits a Class C infraction. Where swimmers are present, the boater may also be guilty of endangerment, a Class C misdemeanor. (See Operating a Boat in a Reckless Manner, discussed previously.) The no-boat zones on Lake Michigan are set forth in 312 IAC 5-8. On this website, the rule sections include maps that identify these zones. The no-boat zones are marked by a white buoy with a vertical, open-faced diamond shape and a cross centered in the diamond. Uniform buoy markers used for navigation aids are illustrated at 312 IAC 5-4-6.
Through an agreement between the U.S. Coast Guard and Indiana, and as provided by state statute, zones have been designated by rule on public waters where boating activities are limited or restricted. For the Indiana waters of Lake Michigan, no-boat zones have been established along several areas in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte Counties, mostly to protect users of swimming beaches. A person who operates a boat within a no-boat zone commits a Class C infraction. Where swimmers are present, the boater may also be guilty of endangerment, a Class C misdemeanor. (See Operating a Boat in a Reckless Manner, discussed previously.) The no-boat zones on Lake Michigan are set forth in IC 14-15-3-20. The same requirements apply to a personal watercraft towing a waterskier. In addition, a personal watercraft cannot be lawfully used to tow a waterskier unless the personal watercraft is at least ten feet long and designed to seat at least three people. See IC 14-15-12-7.
A person must not operate a boat unless the boat has at least one life preserver for every person onboard. Each life preserver must meet the minimum U.S. Coast Guard requirements for a Type I, II, III, or V PFD. In addition, for a boat at least 16 feet long (other than a kayak or canoe), there must be onboard at least one Type IV (“throwable”) PFD. Generally, a child onboard must wear a life preserver. See 312 IAC 5-13-2. For persons on a personal watercraft, life preservers must be worn. See IC 14-15-12-8.
A personal watercraft is a "motorboat" and must comply with all the requirements governing the operation of motorboats. In addition, the Indiana General Assembly recently made several additional requirements with particular application to personal watercraft. Each person operating, riding on, or being towed by a personal watercraft must wear a life preserver ("personal flotation device") which conforms with U.S. Coast Guard requirements. Weaving through traffic, jumping on wakes, following another boat in a way that endangers another, cutting between a boat and a water skier, and several other violations are described in IC 14- 15-12. A person who owns or controls a personal watercraft must not knowingly allow another person using the watercraft to commit a violation. IC 14-15-12-11.
A person operating a motorboat must not allow a person to be on the gunwales. A person operating a motorboat less than 21 feet long must not allow a person to be on the bow decking except for anchoring, mooring, casting off, or when otherwise necessary. IC 14-15-3-24.
Every motorboat principally used on the waters of Indiana must be registered with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and numbered. An important exception is for a motorboat legally registered in another state, but the exception applies only if the boat has not been within Indiana for more than 60 consecutive days. The purchase or lease of a mooring site for the boat in Indiana is evidence that a motorboat will be operated on the waters of Indiana for more than 60 consecutive days. When a motorboat is in operation, the operator must have the registration certificate onboard. A person who fails to have a boat properly registered, or who fails to have the registration certificate onboard, commits a class C infraction. For more information, see IC 9-31-3.