In Florida, most alcohol related criminal cases are DUI cases, however it is not uncommon for us to see boating under the influence, or BUI, cases as well. There are some similarities between DUI and BUI cases as well as certain differences. As to the similarities, it is illegal to drive a boat while impaired, and the police will try and get the boat driver to submit to field sobriety exercises and a breathalyzer test just as with a DUI. Additionally, the penalties for BUI and DUI cases are similar.
There are also some key differences. Some of the observations the law enforcement officers make trying to prove impairment are obviously different when a person is on a boat versus in a vehicle. Additionally, it is not illegal to drink alcohol on a boat, while it is illegal for any occupant to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle on the road.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, a Fish and Wildlife Department officer observed the defendant violating the wake free zone with his boat. He asked the defendant to pull his boat over to the officer’s boat. The defendant was able to maneuver his boat over to the officer’s boat. The officer then conducted a safety inspection which required the defendant to retrieve certain items such as a life vest, boat registration and other items required to be on the boat. The defendant had to balance himself while obtaining these items. The officer then indicated that he noticed an odor of alcohol coming from the defendant and saw two empty beer cans in the boat. Based on these observations, the officer requested the defendant submit to field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer test. Once those were completed, the officer arrested him for BUI.