Most of us are familiar with the term DUI, which stands for “driving under the influence (of drugs or alcohol).” Nautical aficionados usually know about the corollary BUI—boating under the influence. The United States Coast Guard reports a sobering fact: alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, causing 15 percent of deaths.

Florida and Federal Laws

Will federal or state authorities prosecute your BUI? It depends on where you operated the vessel and where the arrest occurred. Shoreline BUIs usually fall within federal jurisdiction, while boating while intoxicated on a stream, river or lake is usually a Florida state court matter.

Under Florida law, a boater can be arrested when:

  • Their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, or
  • The law enforcement officer suspects that the driver is impaired by drug and/or alcohol use

Florida Statutes 327.35 states that the term “vessel” is broadly defined to include rowboats, canoes, yachts, and ships—virtually any watercraft with or without a motor. A conviction for BUI might also affect the boater’s driving record.

Just as with motor vehicle drivers and DUIs, Florida’s “implied consent” law applies to vessel operators and BUIs.

Like any other vehicle, a boat requires a safe operation. However, unlike driving a car, boat operators are usually far less experienced on the water. Combining that inexperience with alcohol may be a recipe for disaster. Not surprisingly, Florida law encourages having a “designated driver” (or vessel operator).

Significant Penalties

Boating under the influence penalties are affected by several factors, including whether:

  • The boater had prior DUIs or BUIs (they are treated the same)
  • A youth under age 18 was aboard
  • BAC level
  • Whether a boating accident occurred, and the extent of damage to property or harm to persons

Although it is not illegal to consume alcohol aboard a boat, it is illegal to operate a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A person’s boat can be impounded (seized), and if convicted of BUI, the operator may face jail time, community service, attending mandatory substance abuse courses, enhanced penalties, probation, and the debilitating effects of a criminal record. For repeat offenders or boaters who cause bodily injury or death, the BUI may be classified as a felony (with jail sentences of 15 or more years).

In some cases (for example, first-time offenders), jail time may be avoided. However, 50 hours of community service usually is mandatory.

It’s common for a person who has been convicted of BUI to serve part or the entire prison sentence in an approved residential treatment program.

Arrested for Boating Under the Influence? Call a St. Petersburg, Florida Criminal Attorney Today for Help

If you or someone you know was arrested for BUI or was boating under the influence and caused an accident, you should immediately hire an experienced attorney. The lawyers at Khonsari Law Group are here to help. We are conveniently located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Call us right away (727) 269-5300, or contact us confidentially online. Our veteran legal team will make you our priority and work to put your mind at ease. We are seasoned criminal defense attorneys and will devote ourselves to defend your BUI case.