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DUI While Driving a Boat in Florida?


The answer is yes. The same standards that apply to automobiles under Florida law also apply to operating a vessel while intoxicated, meaning a blood alcohol content at or above .08. Over the 4th of July holiday through “Operation Dry Water” the law enforcement agencies, primarily the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (known as “FWC”) arrested almost 100 vessel operators over that weekend.

You need to have a designated captain when you are going out to have a good time on your boat. It does not get much better than finding a good stretch of sand bar, anchoring up the boat and taking in some sunshine and waves. But know this, FWC and the other agencies who place law enforcement on the water are specifically looking for boating-under-the-influence cases (“BUIs”). This Operation Dry Water is a national program which is attempting to reduce the number of injuries and deaths due to alcohol-related accidents on the water.

When a Drunk Driver of a Boat Causes Injury

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If an injury or crash is caused when the vessel operator is boating under the influence this can give rise to the same penalties as a drunk driver of a motor vehicle. An injured person can sue the BUI captain and request punitive damages against the vessel operator. The State of Florida can also criminally prosecute the BUI captain where there is injury, death, or property damage as a result of the BUI. And, it does not have to mean that the BUI captain struck another vessel, it can mean that the BUI captain’s actions lead to injuries on his/her own vessel. The State of Florida can still criminally prosecute conduct resulting in injury or death on the BUI operator’s own vessel. The maritime attorneys here at prosecute cases against drunk boating drivers and we have been doing this for 25 years. This is not a part-time job for us, we specialize in boating injury cases.

Boating Insurance and Boating Under the Influence

One thing to be careful about—and this is not always readily apparent—make sure that the designated driver of the vessel is covered by the boat’s insurance. For the average recreational boating insurance, when the boating insurance is originally purchased, the boating insurance company wants to know and have listed: who is going to be the vessel operator(s). Though we here at have never once represented an insurance company, we see that the boat insurance company wants to know that the 40-year-old dad is going to be operating the vessel, and not the 16-year-old son as the designated driver. Careful on this, because if you choose a designated driver who is not specifically listed on your insurance policy then that boater’s insurance you believe you have to cover you may not cover you at all. This sounds like a very large inconvenience but it is well more than that. If a boat owner—the insured operator–allows another person to operate his/her vessel and the uninsured operator causes, injury, death, or property damage, the vessel owner’s insurer may not cover the losses. This leaves the vessel owner standing alone to face the almost certain lawsuit(s) which will arise from that injury, death, or property. If you also add in the aspect of alcohol into that injury situation, the injured person can ask for punitive damages against the vessel owner who was at .08 BAC or higher. The general rule of thumb under Florida law is that punitive damages are not dischargeable even in bankruptcy. And the further bad news for a person hit with a judgment against them for causing injury is: that judgment is good for 20 years in the State of Florida.

One final thing to remember here is that if a vessel operator–who is at .08 BAC or higher—is involved in a boat crash, Florida law and maritime law allow the application of “comparative fault”. For example, if a crash occurs which primarily is not the fault of the BUI-level captain, that captain can still get arrested for the BUI and still have a claim brought against him/her for whatever percentage of fault they contributed to the boat crash. So, even if the second vessel is held to be 75% responsible for the crash, a court can hold the BUI-level captain responsible for the other 25%. And of course, on the criminal side, the BUI itself has to be dealt with.

It is best to have your designated driver plan in place before you go, and to make sure that “DD” is allowed to operate the vessel under the boat’s insurance. It is also of paramount importance to you that if you have been injured by a drunk boater that you call us at 888-BOAT-LAW to help you.

We are not dog bite attorneys. We are the boating injury specialists. Do not trust your serious boating injury case to just any law firm. You can have the utmost confidence in our 25 years of handling boat crash and boating injury cases.

We Can Help You Right Now.

We Are Florida Boat Law Attorneys.

Call Us 24/7 AT 888-B-0-A-T-L-A-W.

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