State and federal law enforcement agencies responsible for the safety of those who spend time working or just enjoying a sunny day in our coastal waters take boating under the influence (BUI) very seriously. Under Florida law, it’s illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol or breath alcohol level (BAL) of .08% or higher. It’s also illegal to operate one if “affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired” alcohol and/or drugs – no matter the amount.
Penalties start at a $500 fine and up to 6 months in jail for a first conviction and increase with subsequent convictions, much like DUI penalties do. It’s important to note that DUI and other impaired driving convictions count as prior offenses if you’re arrested for BUI.
The penalties for BUI are harsher if your BAL is at least .15% and if a minor was present on the vessel. You also risk having your boat impounded. If a person causes injury or property damage by operating a boat while impaired, they’re subject to more serious charges, including potentially BUI manslaughter if there’s a fatal injury.
Why Florida drinking and boating laws can be tricky to navigate
Florida laws around drinking and boating are more relaxed than in some other states. No one on a boat, including the operator, is specifically prohibited from drinking alcohol, as long as they’re at least 21. However, law enforcement officers can ask an operator of a boat to submit to alcohol testing (or risk a fine if they don’t). If you test above the legal limit or are determined to be operating the boat while impaired, you can face a BUI charge.
It’s all too easy to fall prey to the “One beer won’t hurt!” encouragement of friends, but it can soon become, “One more won’t hurt,” and then lose count. If you’re facing a BUI charge, it’s crucial to understand the seriousness of the charge and wise to get legal guidance to help protect your rights.