For many boat owners, summer means a party on the water that can involve alcoholic beverages. Florida has strict rules about operating a boat while drinking. While it’s not illegal for the boat’s owner to drink, it is illegal for the person actually operating the boat to have a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 or more.
Anyone with a BAC of 0.08 or higher can receive a BUI. Individuals can also be charged with a BUI on a boat if their ability to pilot the craft is impaired due to drugs – and that includes prescription medications.
Operating a boat while under the influence is much more difficult than driving a car, whether the vessel is motorized or not. When individuals are out on the water, the same implied consent laws are in operation as if the individual was operating a motor vehicle. That means if a boater is stopped on the water by law enforcement, the individual can be fined for refusing a breathalyzer test.
If the operator of a boat is determined to have a BAC higher than 0.08, they can face a fine ranging between $500 and $1,000 and six months in jail for their first BUI offense. Being convicted for a second BUI increases the fine to between $1,000 to $2,000 and the individual can go to jail for up to nine months.
Boaters should also know that the penalties for both offenses are more stringent if the operator has a BAC higher than 0.15 percent. Should the same boater be convicted of a third BUI within 10 years of a prior BUI, it’s considered a third-degree felony. It carries a fine of up to $5,000 and 5-10 years in prison.
An offense that occurs more than 10 years after the previous conviction will result in a fine of less than $5,000 and no more than one year in prison. However, being convicted of a fourth BUI at any time will be prosecuted as a third-degree felony.
Individuals may lose their boating license, be enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program; have the vessel seized, impounded and sold; lose driving privileges; and it can also impact insurance costs and coverage. Depending on the court, sentencing for repeat offenders may include being remanded to an approved drug or alcohol treatment center for the duration of their sentence.
The bottom line is that the best solution for anyone that’s piloting a boat is not to drink at all.
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