When clients first contact Musca Law’s Florida criminal defense lawyers about boating under the influence (BUI), they usually have several questions about their cases and the laws in the state pertaining to these types of charges. Below, we have listed several questions we frequently hear about BUI and our answers to those questions.

If you have been charged with BUI in Florida or have a question about BUI laws that you don’t see listed here, please contact our office today. We are always happy to speak to you about a pending criminal case. We provide free case reviews and can help you understand the legal processes surrounding BUI charges in the state of Florida.

How is BUI different from DUI in Florida?

While the two crimes are similar in many ways under Florida law, several differences also exist between driving under the influence (DUI) and a boating under the influence. The inherent differences between a motor vehicle and a boat meant that the Florida legislature had to create unique laws related to their operation and the use of alcohol.

  • “Operation” – Provided the occupants of a car do not get out and attempt to flee authorities on foot, it should be fairly easy for a responding officer to tell who was driving a car. The occupants typically won’t be able to switch seats without an officer observing the driver. However, when authorities approach a boat, its passengers can easily move around, making it less clear who was behind the wheel. The person operating the boat might also leave the wheel temporarily while the boat continues moving in the water. Florida law, therefore, has different definitions of “operate” when it comes to cars and boats.

For cars, the person operating the vehicle is the person in the driver’s seat, the person who was driving the vehicle or was in actual physical control of the vehicle. For boats, the definition of “operate” is also the person in actual physical control but further includes the person who has responsibility for navigation of the vessel. This addresses situations where no one was actually steering the boat at the time of an incident.

  • Administrative Inspection – When you’re out driving your car, a police officer cannot stop you for a simple check of your vehicle registration and then arrest you for DUI. By contrast, marine police are allowed to perform “administrative inspections” wherein they stop and board a boat to check the vessel’s registration and the ID of the operator. If the operator is acting intoxicated, a BUI arrest can follow.

There are numerous other differences between BUI and DUI, but these are two primary differences under state law.

Do authorities need probable cause to come onto my boat?

No, they do not. As discussed above, this is a difference between DUI and BUI in Florida. If a police officer wants to stop a motor vehicle for potential DUI, he or she needs to have reasonable suspicion of the crime. To proceed with a search, the officer needs to have probable cause. However, marine officers do not need reasonable suspicion to stop a boat or probable cause to board a boat. Most officers will ask for permission to come aboard, but they are allowed under state law to stop your boat and board your boat even just to check your registration.

What is the ‘legal limit’ when operating a boat in Florida?

Florida’s limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) when operating a boat is .08. The limit is the same as when someone is operating a motor vehicle. Authorities typically have other ways of testing for intoxication, called field sobriety tests. These will differ on a boat because many people will not be able to walk in a straight line on a rocking boat without swaying or stumbling. Instead, an officer might ask someone on a boat to perform an exercise testing hand-eye coordination or other tests that allow the subject to be seated.

What are the penalties for BUI in Florida?

For a first BUI conviction in Florida, a person can face penalties that include a fine between $500 and $1,000 and jail time up to six months. For a second conviction, a person can face penalties that include a fine between $1,000 and $2,000 and jail time up to nine months.

In addition, you could be ordered to perform community service following a BUI conviction in Florida. A court might also order fines if you refused to submit to an alcohol test. Unlike motor vehicles, you do not need a license to operate a boat in Florida. Your license cannot be suspended for refusing a breath, blood, or urine test in a BUI case, unlike a DUI case.

What are some defenses to Florida BUI charges?

The defenses available in any Florida BUI case will depend on the circumstances involved. Some common defenses to BUI charges include:

  • The BAC test (breath, blood, urine) was not accurate or was performed improperly.
  • The BAC test results are unreliable because of an error by the officer or person administering the test.
  • The defendant was not intoxicated at the time of the incident.
  • The defendant was not operating the boat at the time of the incident.
  • The state lacks sufficient evidence to meet its burden of proof.

Your case might involve different defenses arising from the individual facts and situations surrounding the charges.

Should I hire a lawyer if I have been arrested for BUI?

Yes. We encourage all our clients to hire legal counsel in the face of criminal charges, and BUI charges are no exception. Because of the nuances involved in BUI law in Florida, it can be difficult to navigate the proceedings and unpack the allegations. You need experienced attorneys, like those at Musca Law, to defend your liberties and fight the state’s case against you. There is too much on the line to try to defend yourself alone. You can schedule a free case consultation with one of our Florida BUI defense attorneys today by calling (888) 484-5057.

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