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Reckless Boating Law & Defense
HN 655(a)

Information on the crime of reckless boating is found at Harbor and Navigation code section 655(a). HN 655 law covers reckless or negligent operation of a water craft and boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI). The latter crime is covered under a different article at DUI Boating

Reckless Boating Law


HN 655(a): It is illegal to operate a boat, aquaplane, water skis, or similar water craft in a reckless or negligent manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person (Abbev.).

Negligence: To operate a boat negligently means to operate the boat in a manner unlike a reasonably cautious person in the same or similar circumstances. For example, if the reasonably cautious person would not tow three skiers at once, then to do so, is negligent boating under the criminal law. Keep in mind that negligence in a criminal case does not require actual injury to a person or property as it does in a civil case.

Reckless: To be reckless means that the defendant subjectively knows that his or her conduct is dangerous. For example, if the defendant knows that it is dangerous to steer his boat near jet skiers to splash the skiers then he has acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Note: Negligence conduct is a objective standard and reckless conduct is a subjective standard. The penalties for reckless conduct is more severe than they are for negligent conduct in criminal cases.


Jail: HN 655(a) is classified as a misdemeanor. If the defendant is found guilty of HN 655(a) he or she may face up to 180 days in jail.

Probation Sentence:A probation sentence is period of supervision instead of jail. Probation sentences are allowed in HN 655(a) cases, but they are not guaranteed. Whether or not the defendant is granted a probation sentence as opposed to a jail sentence depends largely on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.

Probation sentences may carry terms of probation, including a condition that the defendant serve some time on work release or in house arrest. Probation sentences in misdemeanor cases, including reckless boating, is monitored by the court, not a probation officer (summary probation).

Note: Work release and jail sentences related to HN 655(a) cases may be reduced by up to fifty percent (50%) if the defendant serves his or her sentence with good conduct (also called good conduct credits).

CIMT: The crime of reckless boating is not considered a crime involving moral turpitude.


In addition to the penalties listed above, if the accused is found guilty of reckless boating, he or she can face any of the additional punishments: fines and fees, orders to take mandatory boating safety classes, issues with immigration or professional licensing, denial of entry into the military, and more.




Common defenses to reckless boating include: Insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant acted unreasonably, mistake of fact, statute of limitations, emergency to avoid a greater harm or danger, jury nullification, duress, self defense, defense of others, and more.


Note: Intoxication is not a defense to HN 655(a), unless the intoxication was involuntary and the level of intoxication was so severe that the defendant did not know the nature of his or her conduct (similar to insanity defense).   

If you have been arrested or charged with reckless boating, or HN 655(a), contact our criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation. Call today!.



Quick Legal Reference​

Crime: Reckless Boating

Code: HN 655(a)

Wobbler: No. HN 655(a) is not a wobbler. This means that HN 655(a) is charged only as a misdemeanor.​


Incarceration: ​HN 655(a) jail sentence up to 180 days.

Probation: Probation may be available in HN 655(a) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

Strike: HN 655(a) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.

CIMT: HN 655(a) is not a crime involving moral turpitude.​​​​​

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