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With the approach of the warm weather months in Virginia, many people will choose to spend time on the water and partake in boating. Part of enjoying days out in this manner might include the consumption of alcoholic beverages. There is nothing wrong with that unless the operator of the boat decides to drink as well. Similar to operating a car or truck after drinking, people who are charged with operating under the influence in a watercraft will face harsh punishments if there is a conviction. If the operator unintentionally causes the death of another while under the influence, there can be a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

A person who caused the death of another while operating a watercraft under the influence could also be charged with a felony of aggravated involuntary manslaughter. This will occur if he or she is found to have acted in a gross, wanton or culpable manner, showing a reckless disregard for human life. With a conviction on this level of charge, there will be a minimum of one year and up to 20 years in jail. The one year is mandatory. Those who are charged under this law will not be shielded from other homicide charges if they are applicable.

A person who is convicted of involuntary manslaughter while operating a watercraft under the influence will not be allowed to operate a watercraft or motorboat in the Commonwealth. The person will have the right to petition the court to be allowed to do so five years after the date of the conviction. The court can issue terms for the reinstatement that it deems to be appropriate such as taking part in a rehabilitation program dedicated to water safety.

It is important to understand that the rules for boating are such that there can be an OWI charge for operating a watercraft with a blood alcohol content level that surpasses the legal limit. When there is a fatal accident, the operator can face multiple offenses with major punishments for a conviction. Those who are arrested on these charges need to protect themselves from serious penalties with help from an experienced defense attorney. Understanding the defense strategies available could help a defendant initiate a process to help reduce or dismiss the charges against them.

Source:, "18.3-36.2. Involuntary manslaughter; operating a watercraft while under the influence; penalties.," accessed on Feb. 27, 2017

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