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Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

BUI enforcement officers in Hillsborough County are often forced to make difficult judgment calls when determining whether the operator of the boat is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Even under the best of conditions, well trained and experienced BUI officers can make serious mistakes.

BUI cases usually involve officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. We are familiar with their tactics including the Seated Battery of Field Sobriety Exercises used during BUI investigations.

Attorney for BUI Prosecutions in Tampa, FL

If you have been arrested for BUI or boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Hillsborough County, Florida, contact an experienced Tampa DUI Attorney to discuss your case.

Call to find out more about the charges pending against you, ways to avoid the typical penalties and the most effective ways to fight the charges for an outright dismissal.

Call 813-250-0500 today.


BUI Prosecutions in Hillsborough County, FL

Recreational boating and water sports are a part of life in the Tampa, Hillsborough County and throughout Florida. Unfortunately, Florida also leads the nation in boating fatalities. Alcohol use had become the most common contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

Local law enforcement agencies and the marine patrol have officers with special training in enforcing Florida's Boating Under the Influence or BUI laws. In many waterways, these officers are out in full force looking for boat operators whole Blood or Breath Alcohol Concentration has exceeded Florida's legal limit of .08 percent.

Statistics published by the United States Coast Guard show that in 2007 alone more than 21% of all boating fatalities were the result of alcohol use. These statistics help justify the strict enforcement of Florida's BUI laws, however, not all arrests will result in a conviction.

Contact a Tampa BUI Attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss your arrest and prosecution for BUI or boating under the influence in Hillsborough County, FL. Avoiding a BUI conviction can save you from a criminal record, probation, possible incarceration, fines, court costs, community service, alcohol courses, and your boat being impounded, not to mention a possible driver's license suspension and increased automobile insurance rates.


How Drugs or Alcohol Impact the Operation of a Boat or Watercraft

Operating a boat or watercraft requires the safe operation that can be affected when the boater is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Alcohol intoxication or drug impairment is compounded when operating a boat because of a number of factors.

Recreational boaters are typically far less experienced on the water then when driving a motor vehicle. Furthermore, on the water distractions including other watercrafts, sea sickness, and drastic water conditions can amplify the intoxicating effects of alcohol or drugs.

Furthermore, impairment due to alcohol or drugs can become intensified while on a boat because of the motion and vibrations of the boat, engine noise as well as wind and sun.


Elements of a BUI Criminal Charge

Under Florida law, is illegal to operate a boat or watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A BUI arrest and prosecution in Florida can result when either the boat operator's normal faculties are impaired due to intoxication from alcohol or drugs or the boat operator's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08%. or higher.

Additionally, Florida has a zero tolerance policy for juveniles, teenagers, or young adults under the age of 21 who operate a vehicle while their normal faculties are impaired due to alcohol intoxication or drug impairment or when the young person has a blood or breath alcohol level of just 0.02%.

Federal law also has a specific federal criminal offense that prohibits boating under the influence or BUI by virtue of a law that took effect on January 13, 1988. Federal BUI arrests are made off the shorelines of Tampa, Florida which is under the jurisdiction of federal authorities.

More commonly, BUI arrests are made closer to the shores of Florida's beaches, or on lakes or rivers throughout Tampa and Hillsborough County, Florida by local law enforcement agencies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.


Reasons BUI Officers May Stop a Boat or Watercraft

Many of these arrests for BUI occur after a law enforcement officers boards a boat in order to check for compliance with boating safety equipment requirements, including ensuring that the boat is properly numbered and documented. BUI enforcement officers may also stop a boat for random inspections for safety registration or equipment checks.

In other cases, the BUI enforcement officer stops the boat after finding probable cause that the vehicle is violating a specific registration or speeding through a waterway. Once the officer suspects that the operator of the boat is under the influence, the officer can request that the boat operator submit to a hand-held breath test machine, complete certain ability tests, or submit to a chemical test of his breath, urine or blood.


Prior Record for DUI or BUI and Impact in a Subsequent Case

If you have a prior record for DUI or BUI, the charges and penalties for another case can be enhanced as provided below.

Under Section 327.35 of the Florida Statutes, Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is illegal in the State of Florida. Boating Under the Influence ("BUI") can be proven in one of two alternative ways:

  1. When the person who operated a boat within the State of Florida is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or a chemical substance when affected to the extent that the person's normal faculties are impaired; or
  2. When the person has a blood-alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or
  3. When the person has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

If the boat operator has a prior conviction for BUI, DUI, DWI (or any other similar alcohol-related or drug-related offense) in the State of Florida, or in any other state, enhanced penalties apply. A BUI conviction would require the court to impose certain minimum mandatory conditions to the sentence including probation, drug, and alcohol substance abuse evaluation and follow up treatment, 50 hours of community service, and a ten-day immobilization or impoundment of the boat or vessel.

BUI Jail Time and Fines under Florida Law

First BUI Conviction

  • Fine of not less than $500 or more than $1,000.
  • Imprisonment of not more than six (6) months.
  • Enhanced BUI fine if the BAL was over .20 of not less than $1,000 or more than $2,000.

Second BUI Conviction

  • Fine of not less than $1,000 or more than $2,000.
  • Not more than nine (9) months.
  • Enhanced BUI fine if the BAL was over .20 of not less than $2,000 or more than $4,000.

Third BUI Violation outside of 10 Years of a Prior

  • Fine of not less than $2,000 or more than $5,000.
  • Imprisonment not more than twelve (12) months.
  • Enhanced BUI fine if the BAL was over .20 of up to $4,000.

Third BUI Violation within 10 Year of a Prior (Felony in the Third Degree)

  • Imprisonment of not more than five (5) years.

Fourth or Subsequent BUI (Felony in Third Degree)

    • Fine of not less than $4,000.

BUI Causing or Contributing to Property Damage

    • Misdemeanor in the First Degree;
    • Imprisonment of up to twelve (12) months.

BUI Causing or Contributing to Serious Bodily Injury to Another (Felony in the Third Degree)

  • Second Degree- BUI Manslaughter- BUI Causing or Contributing to Death 
  • Felony in the Second Degree punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in Florida State Prison.

First Degree- BUI Manslaughter - Causing or Contributing to Death

    • The elements are the same as for BUI Manslaughter in the Second Degree except that the boat operator knew or should have know that the accident occurred (although it is not necessary that the operator knew that the accident resulting in injury or death) and failed to give information or render aid.

Special enhancement for BUI apply if:

The person is guilty of BUI and had a blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level of 0.20 or above, or if the boat operator had a passenger who was under the age of 18.

First BUI Conviction:

  • Fine of not less than $500 or more than $1,000;
  • Imprisonment up to nine (9) months.

Second BUI Conviction:

  • Fine of not less than $1,00 or more than $2,000.
  • Imprisonment up to twelve (12) months.

Third BUI Conviction:

  • Fine of not less than $2,000 for a third or subsequent conviction.

Second Within 5 Years of a Prior

  • Imprisonment of not less than 10 days (with at least 48 hours of the confinement being consecutive).
  • 30 day Impoundment or immobilization of the boat or vessel

Third or Subsequent Conviction within 10 years of a Prior

    • Imprisonment of not less than 30 days (with at least 48 hours of the confinement being consecutive).
    • 90 day Impoundment or immobilization of the boat or vessel

Residential Alcohol Treatment In Lieu of Imprisonment

Florida law provides, the court has the power allow the defendant to serve all or any portion of a term of imprisonment to which the defendant has been sentenced pursuant to this section in a residential alcoholism treatment program or a residential drug abuse treatment program. Any time spent in such a program must be credited by the court toward the term of imprisonment.


Related Charges for Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

  • Boating Under the Influence (BUI), Florida Statute Section 327.35(1);
  • Boating Under the Influence Causing Property Damage or Injury, Florida Statute Section 327.35(3)(a)(b)(c)(1);
  • Felony Boating Under the Influence, Florida Statute Section 327.35(2)(b)(1); or 327(2)(b)(3); or
  • Felony Boating Under the Influence, Section 327.35(3)(a)(b)(c)(2).

Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Links

YouTube video on the marine unit for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office which is often involved in watercraft crash investigations and BUI arrests:

Florida's Legal Requirements of Boating Concerning Alcohol and Drugs - The official boating safety course created for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission which allows you to get your Florida Boating Safety Education I.D. Card online so that you can comply with Florida boater education law.

Florida's "Wear It Florida" - Public Awareness Campaign aimed at saving lives on Florida’s waterways through boating safety efforts.

Boating Under the Influence and Boating Safety Statistics from the Coast Guard - United States Coast Guard provides statistics and studies on the effects of alcohol and drugs while boating (BUI).

BUI Information from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission - Information on boating safety and BUI enforcement from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Information about Florida's specific boating safety requirements that are incorporated into the boating safety course taught in Florida including boating accidents, vessel registration, careless and reckless boat operation, airboat regulations, mandatory violator education, water ski regulations, personal watercraft regulations, and vessel speed restrictions.

The National Safe Boating Council, Inc. (NSBC) - Counsel created in September of 1958 by the National Safe Boating Committee.

Education Standards for Boating - Resources from the NASBLA or National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.


This article was last updated on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.