In Florida, boating is a widely enjoyed activity. While a day on the water often comes with food and drinks, it should also come with a designated captain. Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances in Florida is a crime with many of the same aspects as a DUI in a vehicle and which carries many of the same penalties.
Under Florida Law a vessel can be stopped and boarded by law enforcement if the person operating the boat is suspected of being under the influence. Many of the same things that can get the driver of a car pulled over will get a boat operator the same treatment. Reckless operation of the boat, not observing no wake zones or other boating violations, boat accidents, the observation that a boat operator is actively consuming alcohol, or a vessel or equipment check can all result in a stop or contact by law enforcement. Often, the boat will be towed to shore for the administration of field sobriety exercises. A day in the sun and on the water can affect an operator who is just getting off the boat’s ability to stand, walk and balance on land or on a dock. These effects are only magnified if a person has also been drinking. The field sobriety exercises may not be an accurate reflection of an operator level of impairment or if the operator is impaired at all. At the conclusion of the field sobriety exercises, the law enforcement officer will make a decision on whether to arrest the boat operator. If arrested the boat operator will likely be asked to submit to a breath test. A breath test above a .20 can result in enhanced penalties. While the breath test result can be used as evidence against the boat operator in the criminal prosecution for BUI, the result cannot be the basis of an administrative suspension as would be the case if the operator had been driving a vehicle. If convicted of BUI however, any prior DUI convictions or BUI convictions can be used against the operator to enhance their sentence. BUI convictions require an operator to pay fines, go on probation to complete a substance abuse course and evaluation for substance abuse, community service and may result in jail. If you are facing a BUI charge, call our office in Sarasota for a free consultation, 941-365-7171.