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Florida Leads the Nation in BUI – Boating Under the Influence

Florida is second only to Alaska in the miles of coastline outlining the state. So it should come as no surprise that with over 8,000 miles of coastline, 2,000 marinas, 1,700 miles of rivers, 3 million acres of lakes, and year-round good weather, Florida also has the largest number of registered recreational boats in the nation; however, with the large number of boaters out every year, this state also leads the country in the number of BUIs – boating under the influence.

Driving vs. Boating

Driving a car is considered a privilege that you must acquire a license for, maintain insurance, and can be taken away if you have too many violations. However, the same cannot be said for boating. It’s estimated that over two million households participate in boating in some form in Florida. This state has many fewer restrictions regarding boating than it does for driving. You are not required to have a license to boat, and it was not until October 2011 that the state mandated a boater education course prior to operating a vessel, but that only applies to people born on or after 1988.

One local news station recently did an investigative report regarding the correlation between driving under the influence and boating under the influence. The reporters compiled a list of defendants charged with DUI and BUI from several counties around Florida in addition to multiple judicial districts. The results were astounding.

In every county and judicial district checked, there were instances of people with both DUI and BUI on their records. Some had multiple DUIs and BUIs, and others were even arrested for boating under the influence while their driver’s licenses were suspended or revoked for DUI offenses.

Digging further, the reporters found a list of 63 boat operators arrested for BUI that were involved in a fatal boating accident within the last five years and checked their driving records, as well. Of those drivers, nineteen had one or more DUI convictions on their record and four of those nineteen had their driver’s licenses revoked at the time of the fatal boating crash.

Florida BUI Law

The law regarding boating under the influence can be found in Chapter 327 of Florida law. It states that, “A person is guilty of the offense of boating under the influence and is subject to punishment . . . if the person is operating a vessel within this state and the person is under the influence of alcoholic beverages, any chemical substance or any substance controlled when affected to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired . . . [or] the person has a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood; or the person has a breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or more grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.”

However, under the current Florida law, there is nothing that prevents people who have lost their driver’s licenses because of DUI from drinking in excess and boating under the influence. Five states: Connecticut, Alabama, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New Jersey as well as the District of Columbia require all boaters to take boating safety classes before getting in the water. Three other states: Washington, Virginia and Hawaii have passed laws that will incrementally, but ultimately, require safety education for the majority of those states’ boat operators.

Florida BUI Statistics

According to the 2013 Boating Accidents Statistical Report compiled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Law Enforcement, Florida had 896,632 registered boats on the water and an estimated one million unregistered boats, as well.

In total, 2013 saw 736 reportable boating accidents, meaning that someone involved in the accident either died, disappeared under the circumstances that indicate death or severe injury, is injured beyond needing typical first aid, results in over $2,000 in property damage, or has a total loss of the vessel.

Over fifteen percent of the 736 reportable boating accidents in 2013 involved the boat operator engaging in drug or alcohol use. In total, 303 citations for boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol were written out by members of the FWC and other agencies. In fatal accidents, boating operators were also cited as the primary cause of the crash for fifteen percent of the total accidents.

Penalties for BUI

The same section of law also dictates the penalties imposed for boating under the influence. The consequences for BUI increase with each additional conviction, and some are even more severe depending on the timing of the BUI relative to the previous conviction. The punishments for boating under the influence can include:

First BUI Offense:

  • Misdemeanor crime
  • Fine: Between $500 and $1,000
  • Jail term: Up to six months
  • Probation: Up to one year
  • Substance Abuse Course
  • Community service: 50 hours
  • Vessel impounded: 10 days (not during incarceration)

Second BUI Offense:

  • Misdemeanor crime
  • Fine: Between $1,000 and $2,000
  • Jail term: Up to nine months, within five years – mandatory ten days
  • Probation: Up to one year
  • Substance Abuse Course: Possible
  • Vessel impounded: 30 days (not during incarceration)

Third BUI Offense (Outside 10 Years):

  • Misdemeanor crime
  • Fine: Between $2,000 and $5,000
  • Jail term: Up to one year

Third BUI Offense (Within 10 Years):

  • Felony of the third degree
  • Prison sentence: At least 30 days, up to five years
  • Vessel impounded: 90 days (not during incarceration)

Fourth and Subsequent BUI Offense:

  • Felony of the third degree
  • Fine: Not less than $2,000
  • Prison sentence: At least 90 days, up to five years

Contact a Florida Boating Accident Attorney Today

The results of a boating accident due to BUI can cause a lifetime of pain and disability or even death. If you or someone that you know has been injured in a boating, jet ski, or personal watercraft accident in Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, or West Palm Beach, let the experienced attorneys at The Pendas Law Firm help. Call the office or contact us today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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