Many people do not realize that Boating Under the Influence is a crime in the State of Florida. However, BUI charges are common in Palm Beach County, Florida, and are taken extremely seriously due in large part to the amount of boating accidents and fatalities each year caused by boating while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Although drinking alcohol and driving a boat is not illegal in and of itself, a person could be charged with BUI if a law enforcement officer determines that the driver’s blood alcohol content was over .08 or that the driver’s “normal faculties” were impaired, just like a typical DUI case.
Boating Under the Influence is codified under Florida Statute 327.35. A first and second conviction for BUI are considered misdemeanors. The punishments in Florida for a first BUI conviction include: a fine of $500-$1000 and up to 6 months in county jail, in addition to probation, substance abuse courses, 50 hours of community service, and immobilization of the boat for 10 days. For a second conviction, the punishment includes: a fine of $1000-$2000 and up to 9 months in county jail in addition to probation, substance abuse courses, and immobilization of the boat for 30 days. If a boat driver had a blood or breath-alcohol content of .15 or above, or if the boat driver had a minor with him/her in the boat, then the charge could be enhanced, increasing the penalties to include a fine of $1000-$2000 and up to 9 months in jail for a first conviction, and a fine of $2000-$4000 and up to one year in jail for a second conviction.
There are also felony levels of Boating Under the Influence. For example, a third or subsequent conviction for BUI is considered a felony, as are BUI Manslaughter and BUI with Serious Bodily Injury. Felony convictions for BUI carry with them additional penalties, including additional incarceration lengths and higher fines.
A person who is arrested for Boating Under the Influence may not be released from custody until either (1) the person “sobers up” to the extent that his or her normal faculties are no longer impaired; (2) the person’s blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level is less than 0.05; or (3) 8 hours have passed from the time the person was arrested.
Interestingly, Florida Statute 327.35(10) specifically states: It is the intent of the Legislature to encourage boaters to have a “designated driver” who does not consume alcoholic beverages.
Boating Under the Influence is a serious charge in the State of Florida. Anyone who is facing prosecution for a BUI charge should contact a Criminal Defense Attorney to review the case and help navigate the criminal justice system.
Casey Reiter is an associate attorney at Stuart R. Manoff & Associates, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida, practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and Marital Law.