Florida’s Boating Under the Influence Laws

Read about the consequences of boating under the influence (BUI) in Florida.

Florida law prohibits operating a vessel within the state while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The law defines “vessel” as all “watercraft, barge, and airboat, other than a seaplane on the water, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 327.02(43) (2016).) A person can be convicted of boating under the influence (BUI) for operating a vessel while:

  • “affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired” by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two, or
  • having a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater.

BUI Penalties

The penalties for a Florida BUI depend on a number of factors, including whether the operator:

  • has prior BUI or driving under the influence (DUI) convictions (BUIs and DUIs both count as priors)
  • had an excessive BAC
  • had a person under 18 years old in the vessel at the time of the offense, and
  • caused or contributed to an accident involving property damage, injury, or death.

First-Offense BUI Penalties

Most first-offense BUIs are second-degree misdemeanors and carry from $500 to $1,000 in fines and a maximum of six months in jail. Judges are required to sentence first offenders to probation. The total period of probation and jail time can’t exceed one year. And generally, mandatory conditions of probation include 50 hours of community service and ten days of impoundment or immobilization of the offender’s vessel.

For first-offense BUIs that involve an accident, a high BAC, or a passenger under the age of 18, the penalties are:

  • BAC of at least .15% or passenger under 18 years old: Second-degree misdemeanor; up to nine months in jail and between $1,000 and $2,000 in fines.
  • Accident involving property damage or minor injuries to another: First-degree misdemeanor; up to one year in jail or $1,000 in fines.
  • Accident involving serious injury to another: Third-degree felony; up to five years in prison or $5,000 in fines.
  • Accident involving death of another: First or second-degree felony; up to 30 years in prison for a first-degree felony or 15 years in prison for a second-degree felony or $10,000 in fines.

(Fla. Stat. Ann. § 327.35 (2016).)

Second-Offense BUI Penalties

Most second-offense BUIs are second-degree misdemeanors and carry from $1,000 to $2,000 in fines and a maximum of nine months in jail. If the second offense occurred within five years of a prior BUI or DUI conviction, there’s a minimum ten-day jail sentence. As a mandatory condition of probation, the judge generally must order that the offender’s vessel be impounded or immobilized for 30 days.

Second offenders who had a BAC of .15% or more or a passenger under the age of 18 generally face fines ranging from $2,000 to $4,000 and up to 12 months in jail.

Third-Offense BUI Penalties

Penalties for a third-offense BUI depend on whether the third conviction occurred within ten years of at least one of the prior BUI or DUI offenses.

If the third BUI was within 10 years of a prior, it will be a third degree felony, which carries up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines. And the offender will spend a minimum of 30 days in jail.

A third BUI occurring more than 10 years after the most recent prior conviction is a misdemeanor and punishable by up to 12 months in jail and between $2000 and $5,000 in fines.

Generally, all third offenders face vessel impoundment or immobilization for 90 days. And typically, if a third offender had a BAC of .15% or more or a passenger under 18 years old, the minimum fine will be $4,000. 

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to an Attorney

The consequences of a BUI are serious. If you’ve been arrested for or charged with boating under the influence, you should get in contact with a qualified attorney. An experienced BUI attorney should be able to tell you how the law applies to the facts of your case and whether there are any available defenses to your charges. 

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