The Reality of Boating Under the Influence in Florida

By  //  October 17, 2019

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Many people are more familiar with driving under the influence (DUI) laws than they are with boating under the influence laws (BUI), but both are something to have an understanding of. Boating under the influence is a crime and potentially a serious one.

Many people are more familiar with driving under the influence (DUI) laws than they are with boating under the influence laws (BUI), but both are something to have an understanding of.

Boating under the influence is a crime and potentially a serious one. 

Florida is a state where boating laws regarding boating under the influence are especially relevant because of not just the residents who live on or near the water in the state, but also the many visitors that go to the state each year and may go boating. 

The following are some things to know about boating under the influence in general, and also facts relevant to Florida. 

What’s Considered Boating Under the Influence?

Boating under the influence is described by the U.S. Coast Guard as being more hazardous even than drinking and driving on land. 

Just as you can be pulled over on the highway or roadway, if you’re suspected of driving under the influence, the same can happen with boating. Both federal and state authorities have the ability to pull a boat or watercraft over.

In some cases, there are BUI checkpoints set up on the water as well, and they work similarly to on-land DUI checkpoints. 

Depending on the state where you’re boating, law enforcement may be able to board your boat without probable cause. 

Boating Under the Influence Laws

Boating under the influence laws are enacted in all states, including Florida. 

These laws have been an area of focus for lawmakers in recent years as the number of substance-related boating accidents, injuries, and deaths have been on the rise. More than half of all boating accidents include the use of drugs or alcohol, with alcohol being the top contributor to deadly boating accidents, according to the Insurance Information Institute. 

Boating deaths are increased by around 34% when drugs or alcohol are involved. 

Similarly to driving under the influence, if your boat under the influence, you may have to pay fines, give up your boating license, or in some criminal cases involving death while boating under the influence, you may face prison time. 

In many states, new laws have been enacted so that if someone is convicted of a BUI, they may also lose their regular driver’s license. If someone is a commercial boat operator or commercial driver, they may lose their boating or commercial license. 

Boating under the influence laws apply to non-motorized boats like kayaks and canoes as well as motorized jet skis. 

Florida BUI Laws

In Florida, the law states that you are prohibited from operating a vessel of any kind while you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The definition of a vessel includes all watercraft, airboats, barges, and anything that’s used as a form of transportation on water. 

You could be convicted for boating under the influence in Florida if you are affected to the level that your normal faculties are impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both. As with driving under the influence, you can also be convicted for having a blood or breath alcohol concentration that’s 0.08% or more. 

Getting a BUI can be determined by the visible level of impairment or BAC in Florida. 

Someone who is under the age of 21 isn’t able to operate a vessel with any level of alcohol in their system. 

In Florida, you can also be charged with BUI if you are taking legal prescription medicine, but it changes your abilities to operate the vessel. 

In situations where there is confusion as to who is driving a boat, law enforcement will consider the owner or the person who rented the boat the operator. 

That person’s sobriety is the issue that law enforcement will question, but other people who are on the boat and over the age of 21 are allowed to be intoxicated. 

What Are the Penalties for BUI in Florida?

Certain factors play a role in the specific penalties for a BUI in Florida.

Some of these factors include the level of BAC the boat operator has, whether there was an accident involving property damage, injury or death, and whether the vessel operator has a previous BUI or DUI. Another factor is whether or not there is someone under the age of 18 in the vessel while the operator is intoxicated. 

When someone gets a first-offense BUI in Florida, it’s usually considered a second-degree misdemeanor. 

This can mean a fine of anywhere from $500 to $1,000 and a maximum of six-months jail time. 

First offenders do have to get probation because it’s required that judges sentence them to that, and the total probation and jail time can’t be more than a year. 

Most probation terms that are mandatory with a BUI include 50 community service hours. 

If someone has a BAC of at least 0.15% or a passenger who’s younger than 18, they may get up to nine months in jail and a fine of anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000.

If there’s an accident that causes minor property damage or minor injuries, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail or $1,000 in fines. 

For accidents that lead to serious injuries to a person, it’s a third-degree felony punishable with up to five years in prison or $5,000 in fines. 

For a first-offense BUI involving the death of another person, it’s a first or second-degree felony. This means up to 30 years in prison or $10,000 in fines. 

For second-offense and third-offense BUIs, the fines and jail time typically go up. 

Florida is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, and many of the activities visitors do involve the water. It’s important, however, that you are vigilant and make smart decisions if you’re planning on boating in Florida because the consequences of boating under the influence can be serious and life-changing. 

If you are charged with boating under the influence, you should speak to a Florida-based lawyer as soon as possible because they’ll have the best understanding of state-specific laws.