In Ohio, boating under the influence is addressed in a separate statute from motor vehicle DUIs, and it carries similar penalties. There are some unique evidentiary issues that can be raised in boating DUI cases that usually do not apply to motor vehicle DUIs.
Anybody who boats or has ever been on a boat can tell you about the wobbly sensation that people tend to feel in their legs after being on a boat for a period of time. This sensation is not very noticeable while they are still out on the boat, but it is definitely noticeable when they first step onto dry land. This sensation is often referred to as “sea legs.” Speaking in layman’s terms, “sea legs” are widely believed to be caused by the constant movement of boat because of the waves in the water. When a person is on a boat for a period of time, the body will naturally adapt to this environment. When that person steps off a boat onto dry land, their body needs time to adapt to being back on land. This can call the validity of the field sobriety tests administered into question. To illustrate this point, try balancing on one leg with your supporting leg straight and your arms at your sides for 30 seconds. Then try it after being on a boat for a few hours.
There are also medical professionals who believe that being on a boat affects the body’s equilibrium, further compromising the validity of the field sobriety tests. First, many professionals believe that this effect on the equilibrium (more specifically the fluid in the inner ear) skews the validity of the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test. Second, there may also be issues regarding how this effect on equilibrium affects the validity of the other field sobriety tests (the walk and turn and the one-leg stand).
One thing to keep in mind is that in order to get this kind of medical testimony admitted in a boating DUI trial, an expert witness (usually a qualified doctor) is necessary under the Ohio Rules of Evidence. An attorney can’t get the necessary medical testimony in by just submitting a report from an expert or orally stating the information in court. This costs extra money on top of the legal fees. Paying a competent attorney and a credible expert is definitely not cheap. If you get a boating DUI and you plan to fight the case, you need to plan on spending some money. But if you are boating at all, you should first be mindful of how well alcohol and boating mix.