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Five Differences Between DUI and BUI in Florida


The Operator

Unlike a motor vehicle, a boat can be operated without a driver. When it comes to DUI (driving under the influence), it’s easy to tell who is driving or operating the motor vehicle—the person behind the wheel. However, when it comes to BUI (boating under the influence), it can be a little more difficult to determine who is operating the boat. Pursuant to F.S. 327.02(27), the term operate means “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.” The Florida Legislature was prompted to amend the definition of operate to go beyond only driving/steering the boat due to a tragic case in 1998 in Volusia County where a man driving a boat left the steering wheel to go to the bathroom off the back of the boat which caused the boat to crash, killing a young girl who was a passenger on his boat. As such, the law may consider you to be operating the boat, even if you weren’t actually driving the boat.

Probable Cause Requirement to Stop Car/Vessel
A police officer must have probable cause to stop a motor vehicle. However, police offers may stop and board a vessel for nearly any reason, such as enforcing safety regulations and checking registration. Unlike with motor vehicles, a police officer is not required to have reasonable suspicion of a criminal act to stop and board a vessel.

Types of “Roadside” Sobriety Tests Used
Police officers often use different “roadside” sobriety tests for BUI than they do DUI. Given the conditions of the boat, the open water, and the weather, it would be unfair for police officers to ask individuals to perform traditional roadside sobriety tests such as walk in a straight line or touch your finger to your nose while on an unsteady, rocking boat.

Penalties—Refusing a Blood, Breath or Urine Test
If you are arrested for a DUI and refuse to submit to a blood, breath or urine test to measure your blood alcohol content, your driver’s license will be suspended for one year (provided that this is your first refusal). For second and subsequent refusals, your driver’s license will be suspended for 18 months and you will be charged with a first degree misdemeanor. You do not need a license to operate a vessel; as such, if you are arrested for a BUI and refuse to submit to a blood, breath or urine test to measure your blood alcohol content, you will be required to pay a $500 fine. For your second and subsequent refusals, you will be charged with a first degree misdemeanor—just like you would with second and subsequent refusals for a DUI.

Penalties—Community Service
Pursuant to F.S. 316.193(6)(a), the court may order a first time offender convicted with DUI in Florida to perform 50 hours of community service work. However, if the court finds that the residence or location of the defendant at the time community service work is required or the defendant’s employment obligations would create an undue hardship for the defendant, then the court may offer the defendant a buy-out option (pay a fine of $10 for each hour of community service work the defendant is unable to complete). On the other hand, pursuant to F.S. 327.35(6)(a), it is mandatory that the court makes a first time offender convicted with BUI in Florida complete 50 hours of community service work as a condition of his or her probation. Unlike the laws for DUI, convicted Florida boating under the influence offenders do not have the option to buy-out their community service work hours for a fee.

The five differences discussed above are just some of the many difference between a vehicle DUI and a boating BUI in Florida. The defense of a BUI charge requires a Miami criminal defense attorney who understands not only the main differences between the charges but also the finely nuanced differences. Leading Miami criminal defense lawyer Yale Galanter has the requisite experience as both a Miami DUI lawyer and a Miami BUI lawyer to help you fight your BUI or DUI charge and will work every angle to get your charges dismissed or reduced to a lesser citation to avoid harsh sanctions.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a BUI or DUI in the Miami or Ft. Lauderdale area, you need to talk with a skilled Florida criminal defense lawyer immediately. Contact us by email at or call us at 305-576-0244 or 954-524-6600 anytime day or night for more information or to set up your consultation today.

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If you are charged with DUI or a BUI and then convicted you could lose your job, driving privileges, and your freedom. A criminal record not only affects you—it affects your family and friends. That’s why choosing the right attorney is critical. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you reduce your charges, or have them dropped. If you need legal help, contact the Law Offices of Yale Galanter, P.A., today. Call Yale Galanter at (305)576-0244 or (954)524-6600, or browse through the rest of our site.