BUIs in Florida: Facts You Need to Know

Boating is a popular recreational activity in the sunny state of Florida, attracting countless enthusiasts from across the nation. While enjoying time on the water can be an exhilarating experience, it is essential to prioritize safety at all times.  


Unfortunately, some individuals fail to recognize that boating under the influence (BUI) poses serious risks not only to themselves but also to others on the water. And it’s something law enforcement takes very seriously.  


Our criminal defense attorneys at Stechschulte Nell Law provide valuable insights into what you need to know about BUI in Florida including the legal implications and consequences associated with operating a vessel while under the influence. 



DUI vs. BUI  


Just like driving a car, operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have serious consequences. That’s why Florida has implemented specific laws to address the issue of boating under the influence.  


Unlike driving under the influence (DUI), which refers to operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs, BUI pertains specifically to operating a watercraft in such conditions. 


The distinction between DUI and BUI lies not only in the mode of transportation but also in how these offenses are regulated. While both DUI and BUI share similar consequences, such as fines and license suspension, there are some differences when it comes to testing for impairment.  


Note: these laws apply not only to motorized boats but also to sailboats, jet skis, and other types of vessels. 


BUI Stops  


During a BUI stop, officers typically approach the vessel in question and make visual observations for signs of impairment such as erratic maneuvering or reckless behavior. They may also look for other indicators like: 


  • Red or watery eyes 
  • Slurred speech 
  • An odor of alcohol 


If there are reasonable grounds to suspect impairment, officers may ask the operator to perform field sobriety tests similar to those used during DUI stops on land. 


Blood Alcohol Content for BUI  


While most people are aware of the legal limits for alcohol consumption when it comes to driving a car, many may wonder what constitutes impairment while boating.  


In most jurisdictions, including coastal states and inland areas with bodies of water, it is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.08%.  


This limit mirrors that of DUI laws for motor vehicles. 


Field Sobriety Tests & BUI  


Field sobriety tests are commonly used by law enforcement officers to determine if someone is operating a vehicle or vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs. These tests often involve physical coordination and balance, which can be significantly affected when attempting them on a moving vessel.  


One such test, the walk-and-turn, requires individuals to take nine steps in a straight line, turn around, and return in the opposite direction. However, due to the constant motion and unpredictability of waves, it becomes virtually impossible for boaters to perform this task accurately. 


This is why police investigating suspects for boating under the influence often employ seated field sobriety tests, which are specifically designed to evaluate a person’s ability to perform tasks that assess their normal faculties. Seated field sobriety tests involve various exercises that target specific cognitive and physical abilities necessary for safe boat operation.  


For instance, one commonly used test is the finger-to-nose evaluation, where the suspect is instructed to extend their arm with eyes closed and touch their nose with their index finger multiple times. This exercise helps detect any loss of balance or coordination, which could indicate alcohol or drug impairment. 


BUI Penalties in Florida  


When someone is convicted of BUI for the first time, they can already face significant consequences such as fines, probation, and mandatory completion of substance abuse programs. However, these penalties are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to repeat offenders. 


  • For first-time offenders with a BAC below 0.15%, they may face fines ranging from $500 to $1,000 and up to six months of probation. 


  • For a second or subsequent BUI conviction, jail time becomes almost inevitable. A person may be sentenced to spend several months behind bars, depending on their previous convictions and other aggravating factors. Also, fines range from $2,000 to $5,000.  


Defending BUI  


If you are arrested for a BUI it is crucial to take immediate action and hire a criminal defense attorney who specializes in defending BUI cases.  


A skilled attorney with specific experience in this field can significantly impact the outcome of your case by leveraging their knowledge and expertise.  


With our deep understanding of the laws surrounding BUI offenses, we can provide you with the best defense strategy possible. 


When it comes to BUI defense, our approach starts with a thorough evaluation of the case at hand. 


  • #1. We assess the circumstances surrounding your arrest. This includes examining the details leading up to your stop and evaluating whether law enforcement followed proper procedure throughout the entire process. Any deviations or violations could potentially weaken their case against you. 


  • #2. We scrutinize the evidence presented by the prosecution. This involves analyzing field sobriety test results, breathalyzer readings, blood alcohol content levels, and any other pertinent documentation or witness statements. Our goal is to identify any inconsistencies or inaccuracies that may cast doubt on the reliability of this evidence. 


We’ll work to get the charges dropped altogether or negotiate a lesser charge, such as operating a vessel recklessly or carelessly.  


Read More > The Differences Between a BUI & DUI  


Skilled BUI Defense  


If you are facing charges related to boating under the influence, it is crucial to seek skilled legal defense to protect your rights and mitigate the potential consequences. At Stechschulte Nell, our experienced lawyers have a strong track record of successfully defending clients in BUI cases.  


We understand the complexities of these charges and will work diligently to build a strong defense strategy tailored to your specific situation.  


Don’t wait—contact our lawyers today at 813-280-1244 for a free consultation and let us fight for the best possible outcome in your BUI drunk driving case. 

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