Written by attorney Heather Brooke Quick

BUI: Boating under the influence; Florida Law

Boating Under the Influence

Florida Boating under the Influence ("BUI") cases are treated seriously, in part, because Florida unfortunate leads the nation in the yearly number of boating deaths. One third of all recreational boating fatalities involves the use of alcohol. In more than one half of these cases, the victim either fell overboard or capsized their boats. Florida also has the second highest "alcohol" related boating accidents in the country based upon the U.S. Department of Transportation statistics.

If you have been charged with BUI or boating under the influence, you can expect the case to be aggressively prosecuted. The good news is that a BUI arrest does not always lead to a conviction. In many of these cases, the charges can be dropped altogether or reduced to another charge that is far less serious than BUI, and with less drastic consequences to your driver's license and insurance rates.

If you were arrested in the Jacksonville/Ponte Vedra/St. Augustine area for boating while under the influence ("BUI") of an alcoholic beverage or while impaired by prescription medication or illegal drugs contact an experienced DUI attorney for a case in Jacksonville, Duval County or Ponte Vedra/St. Augustine in St. Johns County. An arrest for boating under the influence or drunk boating (BUI) in Florida can lead to a criminal record, probation, possible incarceration, fines, court costs, community service, alcohol courses, and your boat being impounded.

BUI - The Problem

Law enforcement officers that investigate a BUI case must often make a judgment call about whether to arrest a boater. Drinking alcohol and then driving a boat is not illegal. The crime of BUI is committed only when the driver has consumed enough alcohol to exceed the legal limit of 0.08 (per se BUI) or when the driver's normal faculties are impaired due to alcohol intoxication. When making these difficult judgment calls, law enforcement officers often make mistakes.

From the BUI officer's perspective, a boat is a vehicle that requires safe operation. The safe operation of a boat is hampered when the boater is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI). The problem of drug or alcohol impairment is compounded for operators of boats because they are typically far less experienced on the water than driving a vehicle.

That lack of boating experienced, combined with distractions that can occur while boating, including other boaters, weather conditions, and sea sickness can intensify the effects of drugs or alcohol while boating. Additionally, a boat operators’ impairment can be intensified by the marine environment, including wind, sun, engine noise, motion and vibrations.

Elements of a BUI Criminal Charge

Although it is not illegal to consume an alcoholic beverage before operating a boat, it is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state under certain conditions, including under Florida law. Under Florida law, a BUI arrest can occur when either your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08% or higher, or the law enforcement officer suspects that your normal faculties are impaired due to intoxication. For persons under the age of 21 who operate a boat in Florida the legal limit is 0.02%.

Legal Cause to Stop the Boat

BUI officers can conduct the stop when they have probable cause to believe a boat is violating a regulation or speeding. BUI officers can also stop a boat for a random inspection related to an equipment check, fishing compliance or safety registration. The officer can ask the operator of the boat to perform a hand-held breath test or complete a series of sobriety exercises, or chemical tests of the boaters’ blood, breath or urine.

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