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Boating Under The Influence In Florida

Florida has hundreds of miles of coastline and hundreds of natural rivers and lakes that lend itself to a boater’s paradise. So what are the consequences for drinking and driving and operating a boat or vessel while impaired on the Florida waterways? This blog will answer some of those concerns.

First, it is illegal to operate a boat in Florida, while the operator’s breathe alcohol level is greater than .08 or his or her normal faculties are impaired. Remember a person’s normal faculties are his or her ability to: walk, talk, see, judge distances and act in an emergency.

Second, if convicted of Boating under the Influence in Florida or “BUI” the penalties for the first offense range from: a fine of up to $1,000.00; imprisonment of up to 6 months in the county jail; probation for a period not to exceed 1 year; participation in community service hours of no less than 50 hours; impoundment or immobilization of the vessel for a period of 10 days; court costs and fines.

Lastly, Boating under the Influence in Florida is a crime of enhancement. If the offender were to be found guilty or pled guilty to more than one “BUI” in a prescribed time period, the offender faces stiffer penalties and increased jail time and even a felony.

Florida law allows many law enforcement agencies to investigate the water ways of the State. Fish Wildlife Commission or “FWC, U.S. Coast Guard, Marine Patrol and County Sheriffs are all responsible for enforcing the laws on Florida’s waterways. How do members of those law enforcement agencies determine that the vessel operator was “under the influence” before making an arrest for “BUI”?

In Florida, law enforcement officials may stop and board a vessel or boat without any suspicion of wrong doing, unlike a vehicle, without violating the operator’s Fourth Amendment Right.  Both U.S. Customs and U.S. Coast Guard Officers have statutory authority to stop vessels and make documentation and safety checks. Moreover, the random stopping of all motorboats and brief detention of the crew on Florida’s waterways is constitutionally valid when Law Enforcement officers are checking the crews fishing licenses, boat registration, safety equipment and other safety checks. Additionally, under Florida Law the FWC has the right to board your boat or vessel under the “community care doctrine.”

It is while on the boat or vessel that law enforcement officials form reasonable suspicion to believe that the operator in under the influence of intoxicants to the extent that the operator’s normal facilities are impaired. If the Law Enforcement official suspects the operator of the vessel is operating the boat or vessel while impaired, then the officer will likely have the operator perform field sobriety test. The field sobriety tests for boating under the influence are much different than the test administered at an automobile dui stop. Many times, Marine Patrol has a camera on board their vessel and the “field sobriety” tests are captured on video. This is an important piece of evidence that the boater may want to secure for investigative and possible trial purposes.

If the Law Enforcement Official believes that the operator failed the “BUI” field sobriety test, then he or she will offer the boat operator a breath, blood or urine test-with the breath test obviously being the most widely used test and choice of law enforcement. The boat operator may “refuse” the alcohol test. The refusal of the alcohol test does carry additional penalties and fines if the boat operator pleads guilty or is found guilty after trial of “refusing to submit to a lawfully” requested alcohol test.

If you or loved one has been arrested for Boating under the Influence or “BUI” contacting an experienced “BUI” criminal defense lawyer is very important to assure you or the loved one’s rights are protected. Palm Beach Criminal Attorney Andrew D. Stine has been protecting the rights of boaters for over a decade. Experienced, hardened, compassionate and excellent is what you or your loved one receives when you Hire Stine or Do the Time!

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