Boating Under the Influence, or BUI is a real crime. BUI arrests may be made by the Coast Guard, city police, or Fish and Wildlife officers. Regardless of the arresting agency, the case will be heard in the County Court where the alleged offense occurred.
Boating Under the Influence is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and incarceration of up to 6 months for a first conviction.
For a second conviction, a boater can be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned up to 9 months.
A third conviction within ten years can be punished by a fine up to $2,500 and a jail sentence of up to one year.
If the boater causes serious injury or death while boating under the influence, the operator has committed a felony.
Is There "Implied Consent" to Chemical Tests for Someone Operating a Boat?
Much like the DUI law, a boater who operates any vessel on Florida waters, has automatically consented to be tested for the presence of alcohol, drugs or other intoxicating substances if requested by a peace officer. Refusal to submit to testing is punishable by a civil penalty of $500 and is also a crime if you have ever been fined for a previous refusal. But also like the DUI law, there is no requirement that you consent to field sobriety tests by the authorities. Often it is simply wisest to invoke your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney, rather than to provide evidence which they will use to try to convict you.
What About Field Sobriety Tests, Like the Walk and Turn?
In fact, there are no field sobriety tests which have ever been validated for use in boating situations. The pitching and rolling of a boat's deck, and a boater's "sea legs" may prevent any accepted test from being more useful than the officer's educated guess about the sobriety of the boater.
What About Boaters Under 21?
Florida law has special provisions for operators under 21 years of age: It is unlawful for a person under 21 years of age who has any measurable blood alcohol concentration (0.02 or higher) to operate a vessel.
If convicted, those under 21 years of age will be required to complete 50 hours of public service, attend and successfully complete an approved boater education course (even if one has been completed previously), and will lose his or her operating privilege until the public service is completed.
A person under 21 years of age who refuses to submit to a breath test after a warning will be subject to perform 50 hours of community service and may not operate a vessel until completed. (But once again, the field sobriety tests are optional.) In addition to the above penalties, BUI can result in mandatory education, community service, court costs and impoundment of the vessel.
So if you're going out for an afternoon on the waves, be smart and take a designated driver.