In 2014, Florida was leading in boating accidents and fatalities, with 581 boating accidents causing over $7 million in damages and 70 fatalities. Alcohol was revealed to be the leading cause of boating accidents, which led to the state passing laws to crack down on intoxicated boating. It is sensible to assume that driving under the influence (DUI) laws would apply to boating. However, boating under the influence (BUI) is a different charge that carries similar, if not more, consequences to a DUI.

Florida is known for its aquatic playground, where tourists and locals enjoy boating. If you plan on boating in Florida, it is crucial to understand the laws of boating under the influence and how they differ from DUI laws. The information below aims to ensure you enjoy your time on the water while staying on the right side of the law.

Florida BUI and DUI Laws

Florida DUI and BUI laws prohibit vehicle or vessel operations with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher. While the legal limit is the same for both a DUI and BUI, there are some key nuanced differences between these charges.

As implied in the names, the main difference is in jurisdiction. DUI laws punish those who operate vehicles on public highways and roads while under the influence. On the other hand, BUI laws are aimed at those operating vessels on Florida waters, such as lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.

The following are some of the other ways that the two laws differ in Florida:

Requirements to Be Stopped

While police require probable cause to stop a vehicle in traffic, this does not apply to BUIs. Florida Statute 326.18 allows the coast guard or police to stop and board your vessel without probable cause or a warrant to ensure you are abiding by safety and pollution regulations. This is known as “administrative inspection.”

While these inspections focus on safety compliance, officers may observe signs of impairment during the examination. You may be asked to submit to special sobriety tests to obtain probable cause and then submit to breathalyzer testing. You should consult a qualified Florida BUI lawyer if you believe you were unlawfully stopped.

Sobriety Tests

Most sobriety tests cannot be done on water, such as walking in a straight line. Boating sobriety tests are designed specifically for rocking boats. These tests are performed while seated and include hand-eye coordination, finger-to-nose test, horizontal gaze test, and palm test.

In Florida, boaters may be legally subject to BAC testing even when they do not display signs of impairment. By operating a vessel in Florida waters, you automatically consent to submit to a BAC test if you are lawfully arrested for a BUI.


Both offenses can lead to fines ($500 minimum), probation, vessel or vehicle impoundment, license suspension, and mandatory participation in alcohol education programs. The penalties, however, differ in a few ways:

First-time DUI offenders can avoid criminal penalties by joining rehabilitation programs. On the other hand, first-time BUI offenses are considered misdemeanors.

In the case of DUIs, refusal to submit to a chemical test may lead to your driving license getting suspended for a year. For BUIs, however, refusal to submit to a chemical test will result in a $500 fine.

Failure to pay the $500 fine within 30 days is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

Lastly, unlike a DUI, you can be charged with a BUI even if you are not the one driving the boat. For example, the person “in command” may be arrested for BUI if a minor is driving. This is because they are legally responsible for ensuring safety compliance on the boat.

Get in Touch With an Experienced BUI or DUI Lawyer

If you are facing BUI or DUI charges in Florida, contact the team at the Law Office of Robert H. Hanaford. Our skilled and experienced team will work diligently to protect your rights and interests. We understand the nuanced complexities of BUI and DUI charges, and we are committed to getting you the best possible outcome.

We have the experience and knowledge to navigate complex legal landscapes and provide you with the best possible defense. We will analyze your case, gather evidence, represent you in court, and negotiate on your behalf if necessary. Contact us online or call us at (239) 315-9750 to schedule a free consultation.