Iowa state patrol and police officers have always had the right to seek breath alcohol tests when pulling over drivers they suspect of being under the influence. Until recently, that also applied to those who were operating boats or other modes of water transportation such as jet skis. However, this summer, those laws have changed.

The Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled that allowing officers to seek such tests in suspected drunken boating incidents is coercive and unconstitutional. The only way in which they are legally able to ask for a breath test is if they first obtain a warrant from a judge. This means that they must base all arrests on drunken boating charges based on the boater’s appearance and behavior.

The decision was based most heavily on a case involving a drunken boater on Saylorville Lake northwest of Des Moines in August of 2013. The man was stopped when officers saw that a boat passenger was dangling her legs near the propeller, which they deemed a danger. After suspecting drunkenness due to the boat driver’s behavior, they handcuffed him and took him to the station where they got him to sign consent for a breath test. His blood alcohol came back at 0.194 percent, well above the 0.08 percent legal limit for boating.

The man appealed the conviction on grounds that he was coerced into consenting to the test due to threats of a large fine and lack of information on what the consequences would be if he failed the test. Many judges agree that the main problem with the law is the $500 fine if boaters refuse the test, which makes it coercive. If the fine were removed, the breath tests may once again be legal without a warrant.

It’s important for boaters to know the change in the law and to be aware that they are not legally required to consent to a breath test. If they are asked to consent without a warrant, they should seek counsel as the officers have violated the new law.

If you suspect you have been coerced by a member of law enforcement, it’s imperative to work with an experienced attorney who can be your advocate and counselor. If you have any questions about boating law or any other Iowa laws, please feel free to reach out.


Mark Rater is an attorney at Rater Law Office in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His primary areas of practice are personal injury, accidents, criminal, OWI/DUI, and probate. Mark has extensive experience in civil and criminal jury trials and trials to the court. A graduate of Creighton University School of Law, Mark is licensed to practice in both Iowa and Nebraska and has served the residents of Council Bluffs, Omaha, and the surrounding communities for over 25 years.  In his free time, Mark enjoys spending time with his family, golfing and cheering on the Iowa Hawkeyes.