People enjoy heading out onto the water when the sun is shining and the sky is clear. In many cases, they love to bring along some beer or wine to enjoy during the ride. It isn’t illegal to consume alcohol while on or operating a boat if you are of age. But it is illegal to operate a vessel while intoxicated or impaired. Boating under the influence is similar to a DUI, and Florida officials take enforcing boating under the influence in Florida just as seriously as they do drunk driving laws.

If you were stopped while boating and charged with a BUI in Florida or have been charged with a DUI on a boat, because the officials believed you were impaired, call the Sarasota DUI lawyers of Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. at (941) 363-7900.

Florida BUI Law

Under Florida statute 327.25, any person who operates a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol is guilty of boating under the influence. The blood alcohol limit for a boater over the age of 21 is 0.08 percent – the same as for a person driving a car. An individual under the age of 21 is not allowed to operate a vessel with any alcohol in his or her system. A person can also be arrested for a BUI if an officer believes he or she is under the influence of a chemical substance or a controlled substance that alters the person’s normal abilities.

You can also be charged with a DUI on a boat in Florida even if the changes to your abilities are due to legal prescription medications. It is important to be careful if you are taking any drugs that can alter your perception or physical capabilities. While you may have taken your prescribed dosage correctly, it might still be too much for you to get behind the wheel of a boat.

Who is the Boat Operator?

Sometimes it isn’t clear who is driving the boat. This can make it difficult for the police or another law enforcement agency to determine who shouldn’t be drinking too much. If there is a question about who is operating the vessel, the owner or renter of the boat will be considered the operator. His or her sobriety will be in question, while the other guests over the age of 21 are allowed to be intoxicated.

You Can Be Stopped Any Time

When you are out on the water, you should be prepared to be stopped at any time. More than one agency can stop and arrest you for a BUI. You can be pulled over by your city or state police, the coast guard, or potentially fish and wildlife officers.

If you have been stopped for a suspected BUI, the law enforcement agency must have probable cause of this crime. However, officers are also allowed to stop you without probable cause to perform random inspections and safety checks. For instance, you can be stopped by the coast guard and asked to see your registration. If you cannot produce your registration, the coast guard may board your vessel. If there are signs of intoxication or impairment, the agency may turn you over to the local authorities on suspicion of a BUI.

While an agency may not need probable cause to stop you for a random check, an officer still needs probable cause to search your boat.

Implied Consent

Just like when you are driving a car with a valid license, you have already consented to a breathalyzer test if you are stopped under the suspicion of drinking while boating. This implied consent law means that if you are stopped while boating and the officer asks you to take a breath test, you can be fined for refusing.

You are not required by law to submit to a field sobriety test. It is particularly important to know that there is no valid sobriety test for someone operating a boat. Also, because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, you are not required to submit to a blood-alcohol test unless there is a valid warrant. If you are stopped on your boat and asked to submit to either of these types of exams, you should politely ask to speak with your local criminal defense attorney.

Potential Consequences for Receiving a DUI on a Boat in Florida

The operator of a boat found to have a BAC higher than 0.08 percent or to be impaired by drugs can be fined between $500 and $1,000 for a first BUI offense. A second BUI conviction results in a fine no less $1,000 and up to $2,000. The operator also faces up to 6 months in jail for a first offense and up to 9 months in jail for a second conviction. It is important to note the punishment for these offenses are harsher if the operator has a BAC higher than 0.15 percent.

If the same boat operator in Florida is convicted of a third BUI within 10 years of the previous conviction, then the offense is a third-degree felony and punishable by up to 5 or 10 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. However, a third offense that occurs more than 10 years after the previous conviction will result in a fine less than $5,000 and no more than 1 year in prison.

A fourth or subsequent BUI, no matter how much time has occurred between it and the previous conviction results in a third-degree felony.

If the court finds it appropriate, it can sentence a defendant to serve his or her term of imprisonment in a residential alcohol or drug abuse treatment program.

Charged with DUI on a boat in Florida? Call a Sarasota DUI Lawyer for Help

Facing a BUI charge can be intimidating and downright scary. The fines and potential jail time can significantly hurt your finances as well as your reputation. But these types of charges can often be dropped or reduced with the help of a skilled attorney. A Sarasota DUI lawyer can challenge a stop or the validity of the breath test. He or she can use other defenses to ensure you are proven innocent or face the minimal penalty.

Questions about how to overcome your DUI on a boat in Florida? You may be curious to know the differences between a BUI vs DUI, for example. For more information, call a Erika Valcarcel, Criminal Defense Lawyer, P.A. at (941) 363-7900 today.