South Florida is a popular spot for boaters, but boating under the influence (BUI) is a serious crime.
Just like a DUI (driving under the influence), you can be arrested for operating a boat or personal watercraft while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Florida law 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." Impairment may be proven through officer observations or by a breath, blood, or urine test showing the blood-alcohol level of the accused.
A first conviction can result in a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail and a $500 fine.
In addition to any sentence or fine, the law provides that the court shall place any offender convicted of BUI on monthly reporting probation and shall require attendance at a substance abuse course specified by the court; and the agency conducting the course may refer the offender to an authorized service provider for substance abuse evaluation and treatment, in addition to any sentence or fine imposed.
As well, for the first conviction, the court shall place the defendant on probation for a period not to exceed 1 year and, as a condition of such probation, shall order the defendant to participate in public service or a community work project for a minimum of 50 hours. The court must also, as a condition of probation, order the impoundment or immobilization of the vessel that was operated by or in the actual control of the defendant or any one vehicle registered in the defendant's name at the time of impoundment or immobilization, for a period of 10 days or for the unexpired term of any lease or rental agreement that expires within 10 days.
For second and subsequent violations, the penalties obviously increase.
A BUI can be fought and won much like a DUI can. You attack the sufficiency of the evidence, regardless of whether there is a breath sample or there was a refusal.
As far as officer observations are concerned, officer error must be factored into any BUI investigation. Somebody stepping off a boat may be off-balance upon stepping onto a dock. Also, if they have been in the sun all day, they may have a flushed face. While there are perfectly logical explanations for these symptoms, most cops will consider poor balance and a red, flushed face to be signs of impairment.