Residents of and visitors to Florida enjoy the extraordinary recreational boating opportunities afforded by the state. Recreational boating is a tremendous economic boon to Florida. As such, Florida’s law enforcement authorities, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, play a significant role in protecting and persevering Florida’s waterways. Law enforcement officers vigilantly patrol the state’s coastline, lakes, ponds, and rivers to ensure that everyone remains safe while on the water. A significant component of ensuring boating safety is enforcing Florida’s strict laws prohibiting boating under the influence.
Boating and alcohol or drug consumption do not mix. Operating a motorized vessel, sailboat, jet ski, or other watercraft while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both endangers all aboard the vessel as well as all other people on the water. Like driving a motor vehicle under the influence, boating under the influence reduces reaction times, shrinks concentration levels, clouds rational thought, and impairs judgment. Consequently, Florida’s legislature enacted §327.35 of the Florida Statutes.
Boating Under the Influence in Florida
Boating under the influence, or BUI, in Florida is a serious criminal offense. Even though the crime is a misdemeanor, a BUI conviction in Florida could have severe future repercussions.
A person is guilty of BUI, when he or she is operating a vessel or boat within the jurisdictional limits of the state of Florida and, either:
- Is impaired by alcohol, drugs, another substance, or a combination thereof to the extent that the person in charge of the boat cannot safely operate the craft, or
- The operator of the boat, like the operator of a motor vehicle, has a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams of alcohol contained in 100 milliliters of blood, or
- The operator of the boat, like the operator of a motor vehicle, has a breath alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams of alcohol contained in 210 liters of breath.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt of any one of the three preceding elements will result in a conviction for BUI in Florida.
BUI Penalties in Florida
The severity of the potential penalty a person faces upon a BUI conviction in Florida depends on the facts of the case and the offender’s prior criminal history. People accused of BUI in Florida must be aware that prosecutors could use the criminal history from other states as well as Florida to seek enhanced penalties. The possible punishments for BUI in Florida are similar to those imposed upon offenders convicted of DUI in the state.
For a first BUI conviction in Florida, the judge could sentence the offender to a term of imprisonment in the county jail for a definite term not to exceed six months. The court may levy a fine between $500.00 and $1,000.00 as well. Furthermore, the court must place the offender on probation for no more than one year and order 50 hours of community service.
A second conviction for BUI increases the potential jail sentence to nine months and possible fines to $1,000.00 and $2,000.00. Moreover, the offender must serve at least ten days in jail, 48 hours of which must be consecutive if the previous conviction occurred within the preceding five years.
The penalty for a third BUI conviction depends upon the timing of the last conviction. If the previous conviction occurred at least ten years before the latest charge, then the possible jail sentence is twelve months, along with a fine between $2,000.00 and $5,000.00. However, if the last conviction occurred within the last ten years, then the BUI charge becomes a third-degree felony. The possible sentence for a third-degree felony in Florida is a maximum five-year state prison sentence and a fine not to exceed $5,000.00. The offender must serve 30 days at a minimum behind bars, and 48 hours of that sentence must be served consecutively.
Fourth and subsequent BUI convictions are third-degree felonies, irrespective of when the previous convictions occurred.
Enhanced BUI Penalties
As noted, the possible repercussions for BUI convictions depend upon the nature and circumstances of the offense. Florida’s comprehensive BUI law contains enhanced penalties for convictions determined by the outcome of the offense or aggravated by some factor that increases the severity of the offense.
Boat crashes are deadly. They can occur under numerous circumstances, but the risk increases exponentially when the operator is under the influence. Consequently, a boating crash caused by an operator under the influence that results in an injury to another or property damage, then the crime becomes a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying a potential one-year jail sentence and a $1,000.00 fine. However, if the crash results in a person suffering a serious bodily injury, then the crime becomes a third-degree felony and carries with it a potential five-year prison term and a maximum fine of up to $5,000.00.
BUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony. Second-degree felonies carry a possible fifteen-year period of incarceration and up to a $10,000.00 fine. However, failing to stop or render aid to another in a crash becomes a first-degree felony. The maximum penalty for a first-degree felony in Florida is a 30-year prison term with a possible fine of up to $10,000.00. The crash does not have to cause the death of another to become a first-degree felony.
Florida law increases the penalties for BUI in aggravating circumstances. When the breath test or blood test of the operator of the boat meets or exceeds 0.15% BAC, then the state may charge the boater with an enhanced crime. Additionally, the state can charge the operator with the enhanced penalties if there was a child aboard the vessel when the operator was either under the influence or operating with a BAC of 0.08% or greater. The first offense for boating with a 0.15% BAC or above is a nine-month jail term, and a second offense carries a maximum one-year jail sentence.
BUI Defenses in Florida
A person charged with BUI in Florida has the right to defend against the charges vigorously. Common defenses to BUI charges in Florida include contesting the strength of the state’s case, questioning test results and the sufficiency of the observations made by law enforcement, and moving to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence and statements from the accused.