Are You Allowed to Drink a Beer While Driving a Boat in Florida?

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As the Boating Capital of the World, Florida sees over 33 million visitors take to its lakes, rivers, and coastal waters for recreational boating each year. With the state’s abundant sunshine and warm weather, it’s no surprise that many look to enjoy a cold beer or cocktail while cruising on their vessel.

However, operating a boat while intoxicated can have serious consequences. Not only is it illegal to drive a vessel under the influence, but it can also lead to liability for damages to others’ property or person.

Boaters must understand Florida’s boating laws and the importance of boat operators remaining sober to ensure everyone’s safety on the water. Contact a boating accident attorney at Aigen Injury Law for legal guidance following an accident.

What the Law Says

Boating under the influence (BUI) is illegal in Florida. Statute 327.356 makes it unlawful to operate a vessel while impaired with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher.

Having an open container on a boat, on the other hand, is not illegal. For instance, if your passengers drink or you plan to drink aboard a docked vessel, it’s not against the law.

However, if you operate the boat while under the influence, it can impair your ability to navigate and control the vessel, leading to an accident and serious consequences.

What Happens if You Operate a Vessel While Under the Influence?

Operating a vessel while under the influence poses serious risks and legal consequences. Here’s a breakdown of what can happen if you’re caught:

Sobriety Tests

If suspected of boating under the influence, law enforcement or the United States Coast Guard may stop and board your vessel to conduct field sobriety tests. These can include the horizontal gaze test and walking assessments or a breathalyzer test.

Criminal Penalties

You can face several criminal charges and fines if found to be operating a boat while under the influence. These include but are not limited to:

  • Up to $1,000 fine and/or up to 6 months in jail for a first offense.
  • Up to $2,000 fine and/or up to 9 months in jail for a second offense.
  • Refusing sobriety tests can result in automatic penalties, such as immediately revoking boating privileges.

Impact on Boating Safety ID

A BUI conviction can lead to suspending or permanently revoking your boating safety ID card and driver’s license, particularly if you are deemed a habitual offender. This reflects the seriousness with which these offenses are treated.

Civil liability for Damages

If you cause a boating accident that results in property damage, injury, or loss of life due to operating under the influence, you could be held liable for significant civil damages. This includes compensating injured parties for medical expenses, property repair or replacement, and other related costs. If you don’t have insurance, you could be forced to pay these damages out of pocket.

Tips for a Safe Boating Experience

While passengers are permitted to consume alcohol responsibly on Florida boats, the designated boat operator must remain sober. Besides the legal consequences, alcohol impairs critical skills like judgment, vision, balance, and coordination, increasing the risk of collisions, capsizing, falls overboard, and other dangerous incidents.

Consider the following tips to stay safe and have an enjoyable time on the water:

  • Stay Sober: Do not consume alcohol before or during your time operating the boat. Your clear judgment and quick reaction time are crucial for your safety, the safety of your passengers, and that of others on the water.
  • Hydrate Frequently: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated, especially in Florida’s heat. Dehydration can impair your motor skills and cognitive abilities, making it dangerous to operate the boat.
  • Prioritize Safety for Everyone: Staying sober protects you, your passengers, and other boaters. Ensure everyone on board knows the safety rules, keep personal protection devices (such as life jackets) onboard per Florida law, and teach passengers how to use them.
  • Plan Ahead: Designate yourself or another individual as the sober boat operator before heading out. Communicate this plan clearly to all passengers and stick to it to ensure everyone’s safety. Pack plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and food to enjoy the festivities without being tempted to drink.

Get Legal Help After a Boating Accident

Reckless, impaired boating has devastating consequences, leaving victims with serious injuries, mounting medical bills, lost income, and unimaginable pain and suffering. When the negligence of others has turned your dream boating trip into a nightmare, the Florida boat accident lawyers at Aigen Injury Law can help hold them accountable.

Our team has extensive experience winning tough boating accident cases involving intoxication, negligence, and flagrant safety violations. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your legal rights and options for compensation.