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Can You Get a DUI on a Boat in Florida?

Alcohol consumption is one of the leading factors for boat accidents in Florida. Most of these accidents are fatal or may result in severe injuries. It isn’t illegal to drink alcohol while on a boat if you’re of age. However, Florida law prohibits operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Boating under the influence (BUIs) is similar to driving under the influence (DUI). Officials in Florida take BUI as seriously as they do DUI. You can be convicted of boating under the influence while:

  • Affected by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both to an extent that impairs your normal functions
  • You have a breath or blood concentration (BAC) of 0.8% or more.

The Prevalence of Boating Under the Influence

If you are still looking for answers to the question “can you get a DUI on a boat,” the prevalence of BUI cases can help you understand the gravity of the matter. The United States Coast Guard notes that alcohol is the leading factor contributing to deadly boat accidents. When alcohol is involved, a beautiful day in water recreation can turn catastrophic.

Law enforcement officers and prosecutors in Florida are concerned with other facts about BUI, including:

  • Alcohol is more of an impairment factor to boat operators than drivers because most boaters lack the same level of experience to handle a boat as they do a car. This lack of boat experience combined with alcohol impairment can cause deadly outcomes
  • A blood alcohol content of just 0.035% significantly impairs a boater’s ability to operate the vessel.
  • The environment around the boater (motion, wind, vibration, engine noise, sun, and spray) accelerates the rate of alcohol impairment on a boater’s abilities.
  • Alcohol affects judgment and coordination, two of the most crucial skills in operating a boat.

Florida has been at the forefront of boating accidents related to alcohol since 2015. In an attempt to reduce BUI injuries and death, the Florida Legislature encourages all boaters to assign themselves a “designated driver.” The individual must abstain from taking alcohol while operating the boat. Law enforcers throughout Florida have stepped up their efforts in enforcing BUI, especially during the boating season.

Who is the Boat Operator?

Sometimes it’s not clear who is operating a boat, a factor that can make it challenging for law enforcers to determine who shouldn’t be drinking too much. If the question of the boat operator arises, the renter or owner of the boat will assume responsibility. Their sobriety will be in question, while the other occupants will be allowed to be intoxicated. However, they should be above 21 years.

You Can Be Stopped Any Time

When you’re in a boat, you should expect law enforcers to stop you at any time. Several agencies work in this environment and can stop and arrest you for BUI. Fish and wildlife officers, the coast guards, or the city or state police can pull you over at any time.

If you’re stopped for a suspected BUI, the law enforcement official must have probable cause for this. However, the law permits them to stop you without probable cause to undertake random assessments and safety checks.

For example, the coast guard can stop you and ask to see your registration. If you cannot provide it, the guard may board the boat. If they suspect impairment or intoxication, they will hand you over to the local authorities.

An agency may not need probable cause to stop you for a random check. However, an officer needs to have probable cause to search your vessel.

Implied Consent

If officers stop you under the suspicion of BUI, you have already consented to a breathalyzer test. Think of it as being stopped when driving a car with a valid license. Implied consent means you can get a penalty for refusing to take a breath test if you are stopped by an officer when boating.

The law does not require you to submit a field sobriety test. However, it’s essential to know that a valid sobriety test does not exist for someone operating a boat. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision also shows that it’s not mandatory to submit a blood-alcohol test unless a binding warrant exists. When stopped and asked to submit any of these exams, request to speak to your local DUI lawyer.

Penalties for Boating Under the Influence

DUI on a Boat

The penalties for BUI in Florida depend on several factors. They depend on whether the offender:

  • Had an excessive BAC
  • Has previously been charged for BUI or DUI
  • Had a person below 18 years in the boat at the time of the offense
  • Caused an accident that caused property damage or injuries or death to a third party.

Most first-time BUI offenses are first-degree or second-degree misdemeanors. These attract a fine of anything between $500 and $1,000 in fines and six months in jail at most. The law requires judges to sentence first offenders to probation.

The total probation period and jail time should not be more than one year. The mandatory conditions of probation also attract 50 hours of community service. There is also a ten-day period of immobilization or impoundment of the boat.

First-time offenses that involve a high BAC, an accident, or a passenger under 18 years attract the following penalties:

  • Up to nine months in jail and between $1,000 and $2,000 in fines for a BAC of at least 0.15% or a passenger below 18 years of age
  • Up to twelve months in jail or $1,000 in fines for an accident involving minor injuries to others and property damage
  • $5,000 in fines or up to five years in prison for an accident involving severe injuries to another person.
  • $10,000 in fines or up to 30 years in prison for a first-degree felony that causes the death of another person. A second-degree felony attracts 15 years in prison.

Most second-offense BUI penalties carry $1,000 to $2,000 in fines and not more than nine months in jail. Third-offense BUI penalties depend on whether the conviction happened within ten years after the first or second BUI offense.

Call a DUI Lawyer in Miami

You now have answers to “can you get a DUI on a boat in Florida?” Facing a BUI charge can be scary and intimidating. The finances and jail term can hurt your finances and reputation. With the help of a qualified, licensed, and experienced attorney, you can have the charges dropped or reduced. A lawyer from Meltzer & Bell can help you determine any available defenses to your charges to reduce the penalties. Contact us today for a consultation and case assessment.

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