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Florida Guide to Coast Guard Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Investigations



Understanding Coast Guard Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Investigations in Florida

The Coast Guard plays a crucial role in enforcing Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws in Florida. Understanding their procedures and protocols can help you navigate the legal landscape if you find yourself under investigation. This section will cover the basics of what constitutes BUI, the role of the Coast Guard, and the initial steps they take during an investigation.

What Constitutes Boating Under the Influence?

In Florida, BUI is defined as operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol or drugs. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.08%, similar to the DUI laws for motor vehicles. However, even a lower BAC can result in a BUI charge if it impairs your ability to operate the vessel safely.

What is Boating Under the Influence (BUI)? Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol or drugs, with a legal BAC limit of 0.08% in Florida.

With over 1200 miles of beaches, Florida is a boater’s paradise. But beware. A little afternoon sunshine and the smell of alcohol on your breath can land you in the hoosegow. As with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is a serious crime in the Sunshine State. BUI arrests may be made by the Coast Guard, city police, or Fish and Wildlife officers. Regardless of the arresting agency, the case will be heard in the County Court where the alleged offense occurred.

The Role of the Coast Guard

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is tasked with ensuring the safety and security of the nation’s waterways. They have the authority to stop and inspect vessels operating on Florida waters. When it comes to BUI, the Coast Guard follows strict protocols to identify and handle impaired boaters.

  • Initial Contact: The Coast Guard may stop a vessel for various reasons, including erratic driving or routine safety checks.
  • Observation: During the stop, officers will look for signs of impairment, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol.
  • Testing: If impairment is suspected, the Coast Guard will proceed with further testing, including field sobriety tests and chemical tests.

For more detailed information on how the Coast Guard handles these situations, you can refer to our guide on BUI enforcement in Florida.

Initial Steps in a BUI Investigation

When the Coast Guard suspects a boater of being under the influence, they follow a specific set of procedures to ensure the investigation is thorough and fair. Here are the initial steps taken during a BUI investigation:

  • Stopping the Vessel: The Coast Guard will stop the vessel and make initial contact with the operator.
  • Conducting a Safety Check: Officers will perform a routine safety check, looking for proper safety equipment and valid registration.
  • Observing the Operator: Officers will observe the operator for any signs of impairment, such as slurred speech or the smell of alcohol.
  • Administering Tests: If impairment is suspected, officers will administer field sobriety tests and chemical tests to determine the operator’s BAC.

The Coast Guard follows specific procedures during a BUI investigation, including stopping the vessel, conducting a safety check, observing the operator, and administering tests if impairment is suspected.

These initial steps are crucial in establishing whether the operator is impaired and ensuring the safety of everyone on the water. For more on what to expect during a BUI stop, check out our guide on handling a BUI stop in Florida.

Understanding these procedures can help you navigate the complexities of a BUI investigation and protect your rights. If you find yourself under investigation, it’s essential to know your rights and seek legal advice promptly.

For more information on BUI laws and defenses, you can explore our comprehensive Florida BUI Guide or specific topics such as refusing breath tests during a BUI stop.

Coast Guard Procedures for BUI Investigations

When the Coast Guard suspects a boater of being under the influence, they follow a specific set of procedures to ensure the investigation is thorough and fair. This section will delve into the steps taken during a BUI investigation, from the initial stop to the administration of sobriety tests.

Initial Stop and Observation

The Coast Guard may stop a vessel for various reasons, such as erratic driving or routine safety checks. During the stop, officers will look for signs of impairment, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol. If they suspect impairment, they will proceed with further testing.

What happens during a Coast Guard BUI stop? During a Coast Guard BUI stop, officers will look for signs of impairment such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of alcohol and may proceed with further testing if impairment is suspected.

Observation and Safety Checks

Once the vessel is stopped, the Coast Guard officers will conduct a routine safety check. This includes verifying the presence of required safety equipment such as life jackets, fire extinguishers, and flares. This step is crucial as it ensures the safety of everyone on board and can also provide officers with additional opportunities to observe the operator’s behavior.

  • Safety Equipment: Officers will check for life jackets, fire extinguishers, and other necessary safety gear.
  • Registration: The vessel’s registration and any necessary permits will be verified.
  • Operator Behavior: During this check, officers will closely observe the operator for any signs of impairment.

For more detailed information on the safety checks conducted by the Coast Guard, you can refer to our guide on BUI enforcement in Florida.

Field Sobriety Tests

If the Coast Guard officers suspect that the operator is impaired, they will administer field sobriety tests. These tests are designed to assess the operator’s physical and cognitive abilities. Common tests include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): This test checks for involuntary jerking of the eyes, which can indicate impairment.
  • Walk-and-Turn: The operator is asked to walk in a straight line, turn, and return, which tests balance and coordination.
  • One-Leg Stand: The operator must stand on one leg while counting aloud, testing balance and concentration.

It’s important to note that the pitching and rolling of a boat’s deck can affect the results of these tests. For more information on field sobriety tests, visit our guide to BUI field sobriety exercises.

What are BUI field sobriety tests? BUI field sobriety tests are exercises conducted by officers to assess an operator’s physical and cognitive abilities, including the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), Walk-and-Turn, and One-Leg Stand tests.

Chemical Testing

If the field sobriety tests indicate impairment, the Coast Guard officers may proceed with chemical testing to determine the operator’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This can include breath, blood, or urine tests. In Florida, the legal BAC limit for operating a vessel is 0.08%. However, even lower levels of BAC can result in a BUI charge if the operator’s abilities are impaired.

  • Breath Tests: These are commonly used to measure BAC and involve blowing into a breathalyzer device.
  • Blood Tests: These tests are more accurate but are typically conducted at a medical facility.
  • Urine Tests: These may be used to detect the presence of drugs or other substances.

Refusing to submit to chemical testing can result in additional penalties, including fines and the potential for criminal charges if there is a prior refusal. For more details on the consequences of refusing a breath test, check out our guide on BUI breath test refusal.

What is the legal BAC limit for BUI in Florida? The legal BAC limit for operating a vessel in Florida is 0.08%. However, lower levels can still result in a BUI charge if the operator’s abilities are impaired.

Documentation and Arrest

Once the tests are completed, the Coast Guard officers will document their findings. This includes recording the results of the field sobriety tests and chemical tests, as well as any observations made during the stop. If the evidence suggests impairment, the operator may be arrested and charged with BUI.

  • Evidence Collection: Officers will gather all relevant evidence, including test results and observations.
  • Arrest: If impairment is confirmed, the operator will be arrested and taken into custody.
  • Documentation: Detailed reports will be filed, which will be used in any subsequent legal proceedings.

Understanding these procedures can help you navigate the complexities of a BUI investigation and protect your rights. For more information on what to expect during a BUI stop, check out our guide on handling a BUI stop in Florida.

For further reading on BUI laws and defenses, explore our comprehensive Florida BUI Guide or specific topics such as defending against BUI charges.

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Field Sobriety Tests and Chemical Testing

Field sobriety tests and chemical tests are critical components of a BUI investigation. This section will explain the types of tests administered, their reliability, and what to expect if you are asked to take these tests.

Types of Sobriety Tests

The Coast Guard may administer a series of field sobriety tests designed to assess your balance, coordination, and cognitive function. Common tests include the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN), the Walk-and-Turn, and the One-Leg Stand. Additionally, chemical tests such as breath, blood, or urine tests may be conducted to determine your BAC.

What are field sobriety tests? Field sobriety tests are exercises conducted by officers to assess an individual’s balance, coordination, and cognitive function to determine impairment.

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): This test checks for involuntary jerking of the eyes, which can be a sign of impairment.
  • Walk-and-Turn: The operator is asked to walk in a straight line, turn, and return, which tests balance and coordination.
  • One-Leg Stand: The operator must stand on one leg while counting aloud, testing balance and concentration.

It’s important to note that the pitching and rolling of a boat’s deck can affect the results of these tests. For more information on field sobriety tests, visit our guide to BUI field sobriety exercises.

Chemical Testing

If the field sobriety tests indicate impairment, the Coast Guard officers may proceed with chemical testing to determine the operator’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This can include breath, blood, or urine tests. In Florida, the legal BAC limit for operating a vessel is 0.08%. However, even lower levels of BAC can result in a BUI charge if the operator’s abilities are impaired.

  • Breath Tests: These are commonly used to measure BAC and involve blowing into a breathalyzer device.
  • Blood Tests: These tests are more accurate but are typically conducted at a medical facility.
  • Urine Tests: These may be used to detect the presence of drugs or other substances.

Refusing to submit to chemical testing can result in additional penalties, including fines and the potential for criminal charges if there is a prior refusal. For more details on the consequences of refusing a breath test, check out our guide on BUI breath test refusal.

What is the legal BAC limit for BUI in Florida? The legal BAC limit for operating a vessel in Florida is 0.08%. However, lower levels can still result in a BUI charge if the operator’s abilities are impaired.

Reliability of Tests

While field sobriety tests are commonly used, their reliability can be questioned due to the unique conditions on a boat. The movement of the vessel and the operator’s “sea legs” can impact the results. Chemical tests, on the other hand, are generally more reliable but are not without potential issues.

  • Environmental Factors: The motion of the boat can affect balance and coordination during field sobriety tests.
  • Calibration and Maintenance: Breathalyzers must be properly calibrated and maintained to ensure accurate results.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can affect the results of both field sobriety and chemical tests.

Understanding these factors can help you challenge the validity of the tests if you are charged with BUI. For more information on challenging BUI charges, visit our guide to beating BUI charges in Florida.

What to Expect During Testing

If you are asked to take a field sobriety or chemical test, it’s important to know what to expect. Cooperation with the officers is generally advisable, but you also have rights that must be respected.

  • Field Sobriety Tests: You will be asked to perform various physical tasks, which may be challenging on a moving vessel.
  • Breath Tests: You will be required to blow into a breathalyzer device, which measures your BAC.
  • Blood and Urine Tests: These tests are typically conducted at a medical facility and involve taking samples for analysis.

It’s crucial to understand your rights during these tests. For instance, while you may be required to submit to chemical testing, field sobriety tests are often optional. For more details on what to do if stopped for BUI, check out our guide on handling a BUI stop in Florida.

What should you do if stopped for BUI? If you are stopped for BUI, it’s generally advisable to cooperate with the officers but also be aware of your rights, including the option to refuse field sobriety tests.

For further reading on BUI laws and defenses, explore our comprehensive Florida BUI Guide or specific topics such as defending against BUI charges.

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A BUI conviction can have severe legal consequences, including fines, imprisonment, and the loss of boating privileges. This section will outline the penalties associated with BUI convictions in Florida, as well as any additional consequences you may face.

Penalties for BUI Convictions

Penalties for a first-time BUI conviction in Florida can include fines up to $500 and imprisonment for up to six months. Repeat offenders face harsher penalties, including higher fines and longer jail sentences. Additionally, causing serious injury or death while boating under the influence can result in felony charges.

  • First Conviction: A fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail.
  • Second Conviction: A fine up to $1,000 and up to nine months in jail.
  • Third Conviction within Ten Years: A fine up to $2,500 and up to one year in jail.
  • Causing Serious Injury or Death: Felony charges with severe penalties.

Florida law also imposes civil penalties for refusing to submit to chemical testing. A refusal can result in a $500 civil penalty and additional criminal charges if there is a prior refusal. For more information on the consequences of refusing a breath test, visit our guide on BUI breath test refusal.

What are the penalties for a first-time BUI conviction? A first-time BUI conviction in Florida can result in a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment for up to six months.

Additional Consequences

Beyond fines and imprisonment, a BUI conviction can lead to other significant consequences. These may include mandatory education programs, community service, court costs, and the impoundment of your vessel.

  • Mandatory Education: Offenders may be required to complete a boater education course.
  • Community Service: First-time offenders may need to complete at least 50 hours of community service.
  • Court Costs: Convicted individuals are typically responsible for all court-related expenses.
  • Vessel Impoundment: The vessel involved in the BUI incident may be impounded for a specified period.

For younger boaters, the consequences can be even more stringent. Florida law has special provisions for operators under 21 years of age. It is unlawful for a person under 21 years of age who has any measurable blood alcohol concentration (0.02 or higher) to operate a vessel. If convicted, they will be required to complete 50 hours of public service, attend and successfully complete an approved boater education course, and lose their operating privilege until the public service is completed.

What are the penalties for underage BUI offenders? Those under 21 with any measurable BAC will face 50 hours of public service, mandatory boater education, and loss of operating privileges until service is completed.

Felony Charges and Enhanced Penalties

In cases where a boater causes serious injury or death while under the influence, the stakes are significantly higher. Such incidents can result in felony charges, which carry severe penalties including lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines.

  • Felony of the Third Degree: For causing serious bodily injury, punishable by up to five years in prison.
  • Felony of the Second Degree: For causing death, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
  • Felony of the First Degree: For causing death with additional aggravating factors, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

It’s crucial to understand that these enhanced penalties reflect the seriousness with which Florida treats boating under the influence. For more details on how prior DUI convictions can impact a BUI case, visit our guide on the impact of prior DUI convictions on BUI cases.

What happens if you cause serious injury or death while boating under the influence? Causing serious injury or death while boating under the influence can result in felony charges with severe penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines.

Probation and Additional Requirements

In addition to fines and imprisonment, courts often impose probation and other requirements on those convicted of BUI. These can include monthly reporting probation, attendance at a substance abuse course, and completion of a psychosocial evaluation and treatment program.

  • Monthly Reporting Probation: Offenders must report to a probation officer regularly.
  • Substance Abuse Course: Attendance at a court-specified substance abuse course is mandatory.
  • Psychosocial Evaluation: Offenders may be required to undergo evaluation and treatment for substance abuse.

Failure to comply with these requirements can result in additional penalties and extended probation periods. For more information on defending against BUI charges, visit our guide on beating BUI charges in Florida.

Impact on Insurance and Future Boating Privileges

A BUI conviction can also have long-term effects on your insurance policies and future boating privileges. Insurance rates may increase significantly, and some insurers may even cancel your policy. Additionally, a BUI conviction can lead to the suspension or revocation of your boating license.

  • Insurance Premiums: Expect higher premiums or policy cancellations.
  • Boating License: Possible suspension or revocation of boating privileges.

Understanding these potential consequences can help you make informed decisions if you find yourself facing BUI charges. For more details on the impact of a BUI on insurance policies, check out our guide on BUI insurance impact.

What are the long-term effects of a BUI conviction? A BUI conviction can lead to higher insurance premiums, policy cancellations, and the suspension or revocation of boating privileges.

For further reading on BUI laws and defenses, explore our comprehensive Florida BUI Guide or specific topics such as defending against BUI charges.

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Infographic depicting the words Florida Guide to Coast Guard Boating Under the Influence (BUI) Investigations


What are the Coast Guard’s procedures for BUI investigations?

The Coast Guard follows a specific set of procedures during Boating Under the Influence (BUI) investigations. These procedures include the initial stop and observation, administering field sobriety tests, and conducting chemical tests such as breath, blood, or urine tests to determine your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). For more details, you can read about BUI enforcement in Florida.

What are the penalties for BUI in Florida?

Penalties for a BUI conviction in Florida can be severe. For a first conviction, penalties include a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail. Repeat offenders face harsher penalties, including higher fines and longer jail sentences. Causing serious injury or death while boating under the influence can result in felony charges. For more information, see our guide on BUI penalties.

Can you refuse a breath test during a BUI investigation?

Yes, you can refuse a breath test during a BUI investigation. However, refusal carries its own set of consequences, including a $500 civil penalty and additional criminal charges if you have a prior refusal. For more details on the implications of refusing a breath test, check out our BUI breath test refusal guide.

What should you do if you are stopped for a suspected BUI in Florida?

If you are stopped for a suspected BUI in Florida, it is crucial to remain calm and cooperative. You have the right to remain silent and request an attorney. Avoid performing field sobriety tests, as they are not mandatory and can be used against you. For more advice, visit our guide on what to do if stopped for BUI.

Explore additional areas of practice that we specialize in to better serve your legal needs:

Florida BUI Guide Reckless Vessel Operation
Under 21 BUI Laws BUI Breath Test Refusal
FWC BUI Investigations Beating BUI Charges
BUI Field Sobriety Tests Drinking on Boats
BUI Enforcement in Florida Boating with Suspended License
BUI on Personal Watercraft BUI Accident Charges
Stopped for BUI BUI on Non-Moving Boat
Prior DUI Impact on BUI BUI Defenses in Florida

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When facing a Boating Under the Influence (BUI) charge, having a dedicated and knowledgeable attorney by your side can make all the difference. At Leppard Law, we understand the complexities of Coast Guard BUI investigations and are committed to providing you with the best possible defense.

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At Leppard Law, we treat our clients like family. We always put their best interests first and fight for the best possible outcome for their case. But you don’t have to take our word for it – experience it for yourself. If you or a loved one has been charged with a BUI, contact us today to schedule a free consultation. Call us at 407-476-4111

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At Leppard Law, we take immense pride in helping our clients navigate through some of life’s most challenging moments. Your trust and support have fueled our commitment to excellence, and we’re honored to be a part of our shared community. While we hope you never face a criminal charge, we want you to know that if the need arises, we’re here for you.

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Legally reviewed by Joe Easton and the content team, this article reflects the firm’s 60 years of combined criminal defense expertise. Joe Easton, with his extensive experience and strategic prowess in DUI and criminal defense, offers more than just legal representation; he brings a commitment to turning legal challenges into triumphs. His approach, combining tenacity in the courtroom with personalized client care, ensures your case is not just defended but championed with dedication and expertise.

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