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    The Legal Consequences of Drunk Boating in Florida

    Families and friends often come together on Florida’s waterways, enjoying the state’s scenic coasts and lakes from the decks of boats and personal watercraft.  Just the coastline of Florida has over 1,350 miles on the waterfront. There are almost a million registered pleasure vessels in Florida, making it a boater’s paradise. While full of joy and camaraderie, these gatherings also come with a duty of care for those at the helm. It’s easy to overlook the risks when surrounded by good company and the relaxing sounds of water, but boating under the influence of alcohol carries severe risks and legal consequences.

    Drunk boating is a serious offense in Florida, with laws and penalties that mirror those for driving under the influence (DUI). Florida’s BUI (Boating Under the Influence) laws are in place to deter such behavior and to maintain safety for all watercraft users. In Florida, the repercussions for operating a vessel while impaired are significant, reflecting the seriousness with which the state regards the safety of its boating community.

    Here’s what you need to know about Florida’s BUI laws, the legal blood alcohol limit for boaters, and the potential consequences of violating these laws.

    Understanding BUI Laws in Florida

    Florida Statute 327.35 outlines the offense of Boating Under the Influence (BUI). This law parallels DUI laws on the road, making it illegal to operate a vessel on Florida waters while impaired by alcohol. Initially, the statute emphasizes alcohol impairment, defining it as having a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher, which is the threshold for legal impairment under DUI laws as well.

    Furthermore, Florida Statute 327.35 broadens the definition of impairment to include the influence of drugs. It’s not merely the alcohol levels in the blood that could lead to a BUI charge, but also if one’s normal faculties are affected due to the consumption of chemical substances or controlled substances. This extension to drugs highlights Florida’s effort to maintain safety on its waterways by reducing the risks associated with operating a vessel under the influence of any mind-altering substances.

    Blood Alcohol Limit for Boaters

    The legal blood alcohol limit for operating a boat in Florida is identical to that for driving a car, set at 0.08%. For individuals under the age of 21, the limit is reduced to 0.02%. It’s important to be aware that factors like sun exposure and dehydration can enhance the effects of alcohol while on the water, potentially leading to quicker impairment.

    The effects of alcohol can be felt well below a BAC of 0.08%, and the risks associated with boating under the influence begin with the first drink. It’s always safest to have a designated driver or to abstain from alcohol entirely while on the water.

    Penalties for BUI in Florida

    The penalties for BUI can be severe and escalate with subsequent offenses:

    • First Offense: Fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail.
    • Second Offense: Fines from $1,000 to $2,000 and up to 9 months in jail.
    • Third Offense (within 10 years): Considered a third-degree felony with fines up to $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison. There’s also a minimum jail time of 30 days if the third offense is within 10 years of a prior.
    • Fourth or Subsequent Offense: For the fourth or subsequent offenses, regardless of the time frame, the offender will face third-degree felony charges, just like the third offense within 10 years, and a minimum fine of $2,000 for each offense.

    In addition to these penalties, individuals convicted of BUI may face other consequences, such as:

    • Loss of Boating Privileges: Temporary or permanent revocation of boating licenses.
    • Probation: Mandatory substance abuse courses or community service completion.
    • Impoundment or Immobilization of Vessel: The court may order the impoundment or immobilization of the offender’s vessel.

    The Impact of BUI on Victims and Families

    When a boater chooses to operate a vessel while impaired, they not only risk legal consequences but also the safety and lives of others. Accidents caused by drunk boating can lead to serious injuries, fatalities, and long-term emotional and financial burdens for victims and their families.

    Seeking Legal Help After a BUI Accident

    If you or a loved one has been injured in a BUI accident, securing legal representation is a prudent step. A knowledgeable personal injury attorney can provide invaluable guidance and support during a challenging time. We will work diligently to ensure that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve for medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering, and other damages.

    The aftermath of a BUI accident can be devastating. The path to recovery may be long and arduous, physically and emotionally. Having a board-certified personal injury attorney by your side can provide a sense of security and allow you to focus on healing while we handle the legal complexities involved.

    At Leighton Law, we have represented many clients who have suffered injuries or lost loved ones due to drunk boating.  Our Ultimate Guide to Boating Accidents is a good resource for those seeking information about boating cases.  We have represented families in wrongful death cases from Miami’s worst boating tragedy to an Orlando drunk boater causing the death of a young woman on a lake. The one thing these cases have in common is that they were preventable.

    Contact us for a free consultation today.

    Article by:

    John Leighton

    A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite


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