BUI Penalties

Florida has the second-longest coastline in the United States, and Palm Beach County features a number of locations for people to take boats out on the water. Many people partake in alcoholic beverages while spending time on vessels, but a boat operator can be arrested for boating under the influence (BUI) if a police officer believes he or she is intoxicated.

BUI arrests are taken just as seriously as driving under the influence (DUI) crimes, and people can face possible incarceration and fines if convicted of these offenses. Penalties can be enhanced in these cases for certain aggravating factors such as prior convictions or high blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) levels.

Attorney in Fort Lauderdale, FL Discusses BUI Penalties

If you were arrested for BUI in the greater Palm Beach County area, it is in your best interest to avoid saying anything to authorities until you have legal representation. Meltzer & Bell, P.A. defends clients in communities throughout Palm Beach County, Broward County, and Miami-Dade County.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers will work tirelessly to help you achieve the most favorable outcome to your case that results in the fewest consequences. You can have our attorneys review your case and help you understand all of your legal options when you call (561) 557-8686 to receive a free, confidential consultation.

Palm Beach County BUI Penalties Information Center



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Types of BUI Penalties in Florida

A person can be arrested for BUI under Florida Statute § 327.35 if he or she has a blood or breath alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, or a police officer believes the alleged offender is under the influence of alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance and is affected to the extent that his or her normal facilities are impaired. The statute establishes the following penalties for BUI convictions:

  • First Conviction — Minimum fine of $500 up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail;
  • Second Conviction — Minimum fine of $1,000 up to $2,000 and up to nine months in jail;
  • Third Conviction Within 10 Years of Prior Conviction — Third-degree felony punishable by fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison;
  • Third Conviction More Than 10 Years After Prior Conviction — Minimum fine of $2,000 up to $5,000 and up to 12 months in jail; and
  • Fourth or Subsequent Conviction — Third-degree felony punishable by fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

Additionally, Florida Statute § 327.35(3) provides that a person who violates the Florida BUI law and, by reason of that operation, causes or contributes to causing damage to the property or person of another commits a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail. The criminal charge becomes a third-degree felony if the accident causes serious bodily injury, and an accident resulting in death will be a second-degree felony punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison—although that crime can become a first-degree felony punishable by fine of up to $10,000 and up to 30 years in prison if the alleged offender knew, or should have known, that the accident occurred, and failed to give information and render aid as required by Florida Statute § 327.30.

Florida Statute § 327.35(4) further states that any person convicted of BUI who had a BAC of 0.15 or higher, or any person convicted of BUI who at the time of the offense was accompanied in the vessel by a person under the age of 18 years will be punished as follows:

  • First Conviction — Minimum fine of $1,000 up to $2,000 and up to nine months in jail;
  • Second Conviction — Minimum fine of $2,000 up to $4,000 and up to 12 months in jail;
  • Third Conviction Within 10 Years of Prior Conviction — Minimum fine of $4,000.

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BUI Penalties vs. DUI Penalties in Florida

BUI cases share certain similarities to DUI crimes in that both types of offenses involve allegations about intoxication, but there are also important distinctions between the two. Unlike DUI cases in which it can be easy for police officers to identify the operators of motor vehicles, determining who was operating boats can be far trickier. The Florida Legislature has amended state law such that the term “operate” is no longer strictly confined to steering a vessel.

Another major difference between BUI and DUI concerns a person’s refusal to submit to chemical testing. Whereas a person who refuses to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test for a DUI stop will automatically have his or her driver’s license suspended, a person that refuses a test relating to a suspected BUI, the penalty for a first refusal is a $500 fine and second and subsequent refusals are subject to the same punishments as repeat DUI test refusals.

Police officers also have to use different field sobriety tests for boaters because of the different circumstances under which most tests are conducted. Additionally, Florida Statute § 327.35(6)(a) requires a court to order a person to participate in public service or a community work project for a minimum of 50 hours. Community service orders are at a court’s discretion in DUI cases.


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BUI Penalties Resources in Palm Beach County

Kelly Johnson Act — In 1998, the Florida Legislature enacted changes to the definition of the term “operate” in Florida Statute § 327.02(33) with this act named after a teenage girl killed in a boating accident on the St. John's River in February 1997. In that case, the man operating the boat was drunk, but he was not able to be prosecuted for BUI because he had stepped away from the wheel when the accident occurred. The Johnson Act changed the definition of “operate” from “to be in actual physical control of a vessel upon the waters of this state, or to exercise control over or steer a vessel being towed by another vessel upon the waters of the state” to “to be  in charge of or in command of or in actual physical control of a vessel upon the waters of this state, or to exercise control over or to have responsibility for a vessel's navigation or safety while the vessel is underway upon the waters of this state, or to control or steer a vessel being towed by another vessel upon the waters of the state.”

Florida Statute § 327.35 — View the full text of the state BUI law. Learn more about the specific penalties for certain violations. The statute notes that it was the legislature’s intent to encourage boaters to have a “designated driver” who does not consume alcoholic beverages.


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Find a BUI Defense Lawyer in Fort Lauderdale

Were you recently arrested for BUI in South Florida? Do not make any statement to authorities until you are able to contact Meltzer & Bell, P.A..

Our criminal defense attorneys in Fort Lauderdale represent individuals in communities all over the Palm Beach County area, including Lake Worth, Palm Beach Gardens, Riviera Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Wellington, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Greenacres, Jupiter, and many others. Call (561) 557-8686 or submit an online contact form to have our lawyers provide a complete evaluation of your case during a free initial consultation.


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