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The Florida Crime of Boating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs

In Duval County (Jacksonville), Florida, there are over 34,000 boats registered. As we approach the Summer months, boating becomes increasingly popular, and the Jacksonville area water ways become more crowded. As a result, boating under the influence of alcohol (BUI) arrests also increase this time of year.

In the Jacksonville, Florida area, there are law enforcement officials, such as the Florida Wildlife Commission, who patrol the water ways in Duval County, Clay County, Nassau County and all of Northeast Florida just like police officers and troopers patrol the roads. And also like police officers on the road, law enforcement officials on the water must have a valid reason to stop a boat. A boat can be stopped based upon probable cause which can arise if a boat is speeding or in violation of the various regulations that apply to boats. A boat can also be stopped for a random inspection related to fishing, equipment, registration or safety.

If an officer suspects that a boat driver is operating the boat under the influence of alcohol, the officer may request a field sobriety test. The field sobriety test is different from the one performed on a vehicle driver. Part of the test can be done on the boat on the water such as the alphabet, horizontal gaze and finger counting. However, other parts of the test should be done on land, such as standing on one leg, placing the finger on the nose and walking a straight line and turning. But there are other factors to consider in the boating context. A boater should be given a period of time after getting off of the boat to acclimate him/herself to land after spending time on the water. Also, these tests are often more difficult if the person is barefoot or in flip flops as supposed to regular, more stable shoes. At some point, in deciding whether to make an arrest for BUI or after a BUI arrest, the officer will make a note of and/or take pictures of any alcohol or alcohol containers in the boat.

Under Florida law, a person commits the crime of boating under the influence when he/she operates a vessel while his/her normal faculties are impaired or his/her blood or breath alcohol level is 0.08 or higher. Like the crime of DUI, boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a misdemeanor (unless upon a third conviction within ten years of the previous conviction or upon a fourth conviction) that subjects an offender to serious fines and other penalties, probation and the possibility of jail time.