Florida Boating DUI Penalties as Harsh as Those on Land

The Palm Beach Post recently reported that some 32 arrests were made over Memorial Day weekend, including 7 for boating under the influence. Deputies also assisted nearby law enforcement agencies with an addition 13 boating under the influence arrests that weekend.
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Although boating is a year-around affair in Florida, our Palm Beach BUI lawyers know that Memorial Day kicks off the official start of the summer season, which means authorities are out in full force searching for offenders.

In all that weekend, deputies issued nearly 130 boating citations and almost 500 verbal and written warnings.

Too many people make the mistake of thinking that just because they are on a boat, the same laws don’t apply. That used to be true. Many states had different laws for what constituted as under the influence when it came to vessel operators.

That’s been changing. Today, only three states allow for a legal blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. Michigan, North Dakota and Wyoming all allow for a BAC of 0.10 percent before they will consider a boat operator intoxicated. Georgia used to be on that list, but just this year changed its standard to the 0.08 percent observed by Florida and 45 other states.

The U.S. Coast Guard reports that alcohol is the top contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in the U.S. It was the primary factor in 17 percent of the more than 650 boating deaths reported last year. That’s a slight increase from the 16 percent reported in 2011.

In Florida, boating under the influence will net you the same penalties as if the offense had been committed behind the wheel of a car. Florida Statute 327.35 holds that if you are operating a vessel and are either under the influence of alcohol or any chemical substance or if you have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, you may be arrested. For a first-time violation, you will be looking at a fine of between $500 to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. A second offense will result in a fine of up to $2,000 and up to nine months in jail.

If your blood alcohol level is 0.015 percent or higher, you will face up to a $2,000 fine and 9 months in jail for a first-time conviction. You would also be required to undergo substance abuse counseling and be on probation for up to one year.

If you are found to be under the influence while operating a vehicle and cause damage to property, you will face a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. And if you cause serious bodily harm to someone while under the influence of a vessel, you will face a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. If someone dies as a result of your actions while under the influence and operating a vessel, you could face either a first- or second-degree felony, depending on the circumstances. That could have in you prison for 15 years to life – particularly if you did not stay to render aid.

If you are convicted of one of these crimes, you also face the chance that your vehicle will be impounded or immobilized.

Other states have taken these laws a bit further. In Illinois, for example, the legislature just passed a measure that allows the state to suspend a person’s driver’s license if he or she is convicted of operating a motorboat while under the influence. It also extends the concept of “implied consent” to those suspected of operating a boat drunk, meaning they may be subject to a suspension of that license simply for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test.

In Washington state, the governor recently signed off on a BUI law that extends to individuals who are under the influence of marijuana.

Georgia’s recent move to lower the BAC threshold came after a fatal crash killed two brothers, ages 13 and 9, in Lake Lanier last summer when their pontoon boat was crashed into by a fishing boat operated by a man who was allegedly drunk.

Incidents like this have changed the overall boating culture, not just in Florida but across the country. The director of law enforcement for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators was recently quoted as saying that 20 years ago, if you were drunk and driving a boat, authorities would tell you to go home. Today, if you’re driving a boat with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher, he said, you will go to jail.

If you are charged with a boating DUI Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
States cracking down on drunken boating, May 20, 2013, By Larry Copeland USA Today
More Blog Entries:
Florida DUI Arrests Could Increase With Reduced BAC Limits, May 30, 2013, Palm Beach DUI Lawyer Blog

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