Florida’s endless waterways and pristine coastlines draw in many boating enthusiasts each year. Since several water recreational activities go well with alcoholic beverages, like cruising and fishing, it can’t be helped that some people would decide to operate a boat while intoxicated. However, it is vital to know that boating under the influence (BUI) is prohibited in Florida.
If you’re charged with BUI in Florida, you must know the penalties you could face if convicted. Read on to learn more.
What is Boating Under the Influence (BUI)?
Boat accidents can occur for many reasons—some of which cannot be avoided or prevented, like bad weather conditions. Other times, these accidents can stem from the negligent or reckless behavior of the boat driver.
According to the U.S Coast Guard, alcohol is easily a top contributing factor in deadly boat accidents. Additionally, it is reported that Florida is the leading state in terms of boating deaths (62) and boating accidents (679) in 2019.
It is safe to assume that when alcoholic beverages are involved, a day of water fun and recreational activities can turn into something tragic.
Know that you can now face serious criminal charges if caught operating a boat under the influence. Under Florida Statute Section 327.35(1), an individual can be charged and convicted of BUI in the event they are caught operating a boat or other vessel within the state while intoxicated.
For the BUI laws, a state of intoxication means one or more of the following:
- A breath or blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more; or
- Under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs to the extent that their normal faculties are impaired.
With the rise of accidents concerning boating under the influence, the Florida legislature strongly encourages all boaters to appoint a designated driver who abstains from alcohol while driving the vessel.
Penalties When Charged With Boating Under the Influence
The consequences for any BUI charge are undoubtedly harsh, but multiple BUIs can lead to severe felonies and jail time. There are varying degrees of BUI punishments in Florida:
Most first-offense BUIs are considered second-degree misdemeanors and could carry from $500-$1000 in fines and up to 6 months of jail time. Judges must also sentence them to probation, which wouldn’t exceed a year.
Generally, mandatory probationary conditions include ten days of immobilization or impoundment of their vessel. It also requires 50 hours of community service.
- For an accident involving minor injuries to another person or property damage: First-degree misdemeanor, $1000 fine, and up to a year of jail time.
- BAC of at least .015% under 18 years old: Second-degree misdemeanor, $1000-$2000 fine, and up to nine months jail time.
- For an accident involving severe injury to another person: Third-degree felony, $5000 fine, and up to 5 years jail time.
- For an accident involving death: First or second-degree felony, $10,000 fine, and a jail time of up to 15 years for a second-degree felony and 30 years for a first-degree felony.
Second-offense BUI convictions are second-degree misdemeanors with a fine of $1000-$2000 and a maximum jail time of nine months. If the second offense happened within five years of the first, there is a minimum 10-day jail sentence. As for mandatory probationary conditions, the judge is required to order their vessels to be immobilized or impounded for 30 days.
Minor second offenders with a BAC of .15% generally face fines ranging from $2000 to $4000 and a maximum jail sentence of 12 months.
The penalties for third-time offenders will depend on whether the third offense occurred within ten years of at least one of the prior offenses. If that were the case, it would be a third-degree felony with a fine of $5000 and a jail time of up to 5 years. The offender will also have a minimum jail sentence of 30 days.
If the third BUI offense occurred more than a decade after one of the prior offenses, it is punishable by a fine of $2000-$5000 and a jail time of up to 12 months. All third-time offenders must have their vessels impounded or immobilized for 90 days. Also, minors with a BAC of .015% will need to pay a minimum fine of $4000.
When Can a Police Officer Stop You When You’re Boating?
More and more people are boating through the waterways of Florida each year. As a result, police and law enforcement officers have been much stricter in their safety boat inspections and BUI investigations.
Generally, an officer must supply a reason for stopping and testing boat operators. Possible reasons why they would stop a boat can include:
- Excessive speeding;
- Violating a regulation or law; and
- Exhibiting unsafe boating behavior.
Officers are also authorized to conduct inspections on boats and water vessels. That’s to:
- Check if you have the required safety equipment in case of emergency (life jackets, etc.);
- Check your registration; and
- Make sure you comply with the fishing regulations set in place.
What Should You Do if You Get Arrested for BUI?
If you’re charged or arrested for boating under the influence (BUI), the first thing you need to do is find out about your legal rights. It is important to remember that what you do and say can be used against you. It is better to practice your right to remain silent.
While being silent, you must remain calm and polite. Do not resist the arrest since that could also be bad for your case.
Once possible, seek out legal advice from an experienced attorney. It will help if they have prior experience with handling BUI cases, as they are the ones that can truly defend you in court. The sooner you consult with an attorney, the sooner you can start working on your defense strategy to minimize any potential penalty or punishment.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Facing a BUI charge in the state of Florida is a scary experience. Not to mention that the outcome is still uncertain. It can undoubtedly impact your personal and professional life negatively in the years to come. Due to the heavy consequences and penalties associated with BUI charges, you must act fast.
An experienced lawyer working on your case can help get your charge reduced or dismissed. They can assist in various ways, including offering legal counsel, building an extensive defense, handling all the paperwork, and representing you in court.
If you’ve been charged or arrested, contact our team at Hanlon Law Sarasota for help. Our criminal defense attorneys are available 24/7.
Call us today to schedule a free consultation.
1605 Main St Ste 1115
Sarasota, FL 34236