Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
BUI enforcement officers in Hillsborough County are often forced to make difficult judgment calls when determining whether the boat’s operator is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Under the best conditions, well-trained and experienced BUI officers can make big mistakes.
BUI cases usually involve officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The marine unit for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is also involved in watercraft crash investigations and BUI arrests.
Most BUI arrests occur during the annual re-enactment of Tampa’s historic pirate invasion, the Gasparilla Flotilla. At Gasparilla, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission typically makes 10 – 15 arrests for boating under the influence.
Since the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic began, officers have concentrated more on making BUI arrests. As a result, law enforcement officers are contacting more people on the water or at the dock.
On May 30, 2023, the Public Affairs Office of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release on their efforts to make more BUI arrests during the Memorial Day Weekend as part of “Operation Safe and Sober.” During the operation, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, with the help of other local agencies, made 939 vehicle and vessel stops and conducted 94 vessel safety inspections. Law enforcement officers made sixty-one (61) DUI arrests and four (4) BUI arrests.
Attorney for BUI Prosecutions in Tampa, FL
After an arrest for BUI or boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Hillsborough County, Florida, contact an experienced DUI attorney in Tampa, FL, to discuss your case.
We are familiar with these officers’ tactics during a BUI investigation, including administering the Seated Battery of Field Sobriety Exercises.
Our main office is located in downtown Tampa. We have a second office in New Port Richey, across from the West Pasco Judicial Center.
We fight cases throughout Hillsborough County and the surrounding areas throughout Tampa Bay, including Hernando County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, and Polk County, FL.
Contact us 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 throughout Tampa, Hillsborough County, and the rest of Florida.
Unfortunately, Florida also leads the nation in boating fatalities. Alcohol use has 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 whose 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.
Not all arrests, however, 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 boat impoundment.
How Alcohol Impacts the Operation of a Boat
Operating a boat or watercraft requires its safe operation. Operating the boat safely 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 some factors.
Recreational boaters are typically far less experienced on the water than when driving a motor vehicle. Furthermore, water distractions, including other watercraft, seasickness, 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 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 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 a law that took effect on January 13, 1988.
Federal BUI arrests are made off the shorelines of Tampa, Florida, under federal authorities’ jurisdiction.
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 Tampa Police Department, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, or Florida Fish and Wildlife.
Reasons BUI Officers May Stop a Boat or Watercraft
Many of these arrests for BUI occur after law enforcement officers board a boat 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 boat’s operator is under the influence, the officer can request that the boat operator blows to a hand-held breath test machine, completes certain agility exercises, 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 Florida.
Boating Under the Influence (“BUI”) can be proven in one of two alternative ways:
- 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
- When the person has a blood-alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or
- 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, or 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
- A 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 is 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 known that the accident occurred (although it is not necessary that the operator knew that the accident resulted in injury or death) and failed to give information or render aid.
Special Enhancements for BUI
Florida law provides for special enhancements for the BUI penalties and punishments if the Defendant is guilty of BUI by having a blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level of 0.20 or above or if the boat operator had a minor child passenger who was under the age of 18.
First BUI Conviction:
- A fine of not less than $500 or more than $1,000;
- Imprisonment up to nine (9) months.
Second BUI Conviction:
- A fine of not less than $1,00 or more than $2,000.
- Imprisonment for up to twelve (12) months.
Third BUI Conviction:
- A 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 ten (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 Ten (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 Instead of Imprisonment
Florida law allows the court to order the defendant to serve all or any portion of a term of imprisonment to which the defendant has been sentenced under this section in a residential alcoholism treatment program or a residential drug abuse treatment program.
The court must credit any time spent in such a program toward the term of imprisonment.
Related Charges for Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
Charges related to BUI include:
- 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).
Florida’s Legal Requirements of Boating Concerning Alcohol and Drugs – The official boating safety course created for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allows you to get your Florida Boating Safety Education I.D. Card online so that you can comply with Florida boater education law.
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). In state waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction, there is concurrent jurisdiction to enforce DUI laws. For this reason, the U.S. Coast Guard might conduct a BUI investigation and then request that state law enforcement officers take the intoxicated boater into custody.
Operation Dry Water to Prevent BUI – Information on the importance of not drinking alcohol while operating a boat. Find boating safety and BUI enforcement from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Information about Florida’s specific boating safety requirements 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.
Submit this form to request a free and confidential consultation with one of our attorneys.