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How serious is a BUI conviction in Florida?

On Behalf of | Jun 13, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

A lot of people who would never consider drinking alcohol while they’re driving (which is illegal) will do it while operating a boat. The latter isn’t specifically forbidden by law for those over the drinking age unless they’re above the legal limit, which is a .08 blood-alcohol or breath-alcohol level (BAL) or determined to be impaired, regardless of these levels. 

A boater can also be charged with BUI if they’re under the influence of drugs “to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.” What could a conviction entail?

What are the potential consequences?

Penalties start at a $500 fine and up to 6 months in jail for a first conviction and increase with subsequent convictions, just as DUI penalties do. Boaters also risk having their boat impounded.

The penalties increase if someone has a .15 BAL or higher or there’s a minor on the vessel. It’s important to note that if a person has previously been convicted of an impaired driving offense, that counts as a previous conviction when determining the consequences of the BUI.

Both state and federal law enforcement agencies patrol the waters off the coast of Florida. They have the right to order the operator of any vessel to pull over and potentially submit to an alcohol and/or drug test. There’s a fine of $500 for refusing.

Of course, all of these consequences assume that no one was injured and no one else’s property was damaged. These things can bring far more serious charges, including BUI manslaughter if there are any fatalities.

The law recommends having a “designated driver”

The best way to avoid a BUI and all of the potential consequences is not to drink or use any drugs (legal or illegal) that could affect your ability to safely operate your vessel. If you plan to, the law states, “It is the intent of the Legislature to encourage boaters to have a “designated driver” who does not consume alcoholic beverages.” Of course, they need to know how to operate your boat.

Unfortunately, the temptation to join in with others on board who are enjoying drinks or to have a drink or two when you dock and have lunch can outweigh a person’s better judgment – especially on a beautiful, sunny Florida day. If you find yourself facing a BUI charge, don’t assume that a conviction will follow. It’s important to protect your rights. Having legal guidance can help.