In 2022, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported that intoxication was a factor in 27 of Florida’s 735 boating accidents that year. To combat this problem, Florida officers made 641 arrests for boating under the influence (BUI).
A conviction for BUI could burden you with a criminal record and land you in jail or prison. A lawyer from Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. can defend you against these charges and the punishments you may face.
What Is Boating Under the Influence in Tampa?
Florida’s BUI statute sets three standards for a BUI charge. Prosecutors can use any of these standards to prove you committed a BUI:
- Your normal faculties were impaired by alcohol or any chemical substance
- Your blood-alcohol level is at least 0.08 grams per 100 milliliters of blood
- Your breath-alcohol level is at least 0.08 grams per 210 liters of breath
The first standard requires evidence of impairment, such as the results of a field sobriety test. The second two standards are called per se violations. At these alcohol levels, the law automatically presumes you are too impaired to operate a boat safely.
How Is a BUI Different from a DUI?
BUI and DUI charges have one primary difference. Many DUI arrests happen when officers stop someone driving erratically.
By contrast, BUI arrests typically happen after a collision or during a routine vessel inspection. FWC officers, sheriff’s deputies, and Coast Guard members can board any vessel to inspect it. During these inspections, they can follow up on reasonable suspicions by administering field sobriety tests.
Common BUI Offenses and Violations
Basic BUI offenses happen when someone operates a boat while impaired or with an alcohol level above the legal limit. The law also includes enhanced offenses, such as:
BUI With Property Damage or Injury
If you cause a collision, officers may test you for impairment. They can arrest you for BUI with injury or damage to property, including a vessel or dock, based on the test results.
This law enhances the penalties if you cause a serious bodily injury that involves:
- A substantial risk of death
- Serious personal disfigurement
- Protracted loss or impairment of the function of any body part or organ
Thus, a sprained wrist might support a charge of BUI with an injury. But an amputated finger might support charges of BUI with a serious bodily injury.
BUI manslaughter happens when an intoxicated boat operator causes death. The death does not need to be caused by a traumatic injury. If a collision knocks someone overboard and they drown, prosecutors can pursue BUI manslaughter charges.
BUI With Minors Onboard
Intoxication while boating endangers everyone on a vessel. The state enhances penalties for boat operators who operate a vessel:
- With an alcohol content of 0.15% or higher
- Accompanied by a person under 18
The penalty depends on whether the operator has a prior conviction for BUI.
Tampa Boating Laws and BAC Limits
When officers suspect intoxication, they will ask for a blood or breath test to establish a per se violation. These violations are easier to prove because they do not require evidence of impaired faculties.
Since boat operators do not need a Florida boating license, the state cannot threaten to suspend your boater’s license for refusing a blood or breath test the way it can threaten your driver’s license. Instead, you face a $500 fine if you refuse an alcohol test when officers suspect you of BUI.
If you fail the test with a BAC content of 0.08% or higher, officers can arrest you for a per se violation. If you pass the test by having a BAC content below 0.08%, officers can still arrest you, as long as they have evidence your faculties were impaired.
Tampa BUI Penalties
The first conviction for simple BUI carries a fine between $500 and $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months. The state doubles the potential fine and increases the maximum jail sentence to nine months for a second conviction. A third or subsequent conviction gets punished as a third-degree felony with up to five years in prison.
Judges can sentence people convicted of enhanced charges as follows:
- Up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for BUI with property damage or injury
- Up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for BUI with serious bodily injury
- Up to 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for BUI manslaughter
- Up to life in prison and a $10,000 fine for hit-and-run BUI manslaughter
The state can consider prior BUI convictions in your sentencing for a subsequent DUI arrest.
Defending Against Boating Under the Influence Charges in Tampa
Defenses against BUI charges can take many forms. A few common defenses include:
Not Operating a Vessel
Prosecutors must prove you operated the boat while impaired. You cannot commit a BUI if you were just a passenger. You also cannot commit a BUI while the vessel is anchored or drifting since no one is operating the boat at the time. Instead, you can only commit a BUI when a vessel is underway.
When prosecutors lack alcohol test results, they must prove your faculties were impaired. They can use the outcome of a field sobriety test, but your Tampa boating under the influence lawyer could present alternate explanations for any questionable results. For example, you might not perform well on a test due to:
- Heat-related illness
- Rough waters
The evidence might include testimony from other boat passengers about your condition and alcohol consumption that day.
Forced Blood Draw
In most cases, the law requires police officers to get your permission or a warrant to collect your blood. If officers force a doctor or nurse in the emergency room to collect your blood for a test without a warrant, you might have grounds to have the test results thrown out.
FAQs About Boating Under the Influence Charges in Tampa
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about BUI charges:
Is BUI Different From DUI?
Yes, proving a BUI in Florida has different requirements than proving a DUI in a motor vehicle. For example, a BUI requires that your vessel was underway. However, BUI and DUI are both serious offenses that could put you in jail, particularly after a crash, so it is imperative to contact a lawyer for help if you’re facing either of these charges.
How Does BUI Affect My Boating License?
Florida does not require a boating license. After a BUI, you will retain your boater’s safety card, which allows you to operate a boat with 10 horsepower or more.
Can I Still Operate a Boat After a BUI Charge?
Yes. However, Florida can impound your vessel after a BUI, so you might not have a boat to operate.
Contact a BUI Lawyer in Tampa Today
A BUI conviction can have serious consequences, including incarceration. Contact a boating while intoxicated lawyer from Metcalf Falls, Criminal Defense Attorneys, P.A. to discuss your charges and how we can help you: (813) 258-4800.