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Boating Under the Influence: Statistics, Examples and Tips

Boating Accidents

Florida leads the nation in the number of recreational boats, with over 1 million registered in 2022 according to a report of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (“FWC”).  And, according to the U.S. Coast Guard’s annual report, Florida also has the largest number of boating-related deaths. Our state was home to the most boating accidents in 2021 – numbering 723 – as well as the most during the 10-year study period, for a total of 6,819. There are many factors that cause or contribute to boating accidents, but alcohol is among the leading causes. In fact, alcohol is a factor in more than 7% of boating accidents or around 330 per year. If you need representation related to a personal injury from a boating accident caused by Boating Under the Influence, a West Palm Beach personal injury attorney can help you understand your rights. 

Boating Under the Influence

As in all other states, it is illegal to boat in Florida while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Specifically, it is illegal to operate a boat or manipulate water skis, sailboard or other similar device while under the influence. According to Florida law, an individual is deemed to be under the influence with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. A threshold of 0.05 can also be considered to be “under the influence” if there is other corroborating evidence. 

Alcohol and drugs can result in many negative physical manifestations. They can result in blurred vision, slowed reaction time, and poor coordination. An individual’s judgment is impaired when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs are a major contributor to boating accidents and fatalities. 

Penalties for Boating Under the Influence

For a first conviction in Florida, Boating Under the Influence is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and 50 hours of community service. The defendant’s boat is also impounded or immobilized for ten days. 

A second conviction within 5 years is punishable with a minimum of 10 days in jail up to 9 months, a $2,000 fine, and the defendant’s boat is impounded or immobilized for 30 days.

A third conviction within a 10-year period is a third-degree felony, which is punishable with up to 12 months in jail, with a minimum of 30 days. A fine of $2,000 to $5,000 will be imposed, and the boat will be immobilized or impounded for 90 days after the jail sentence. 

A fourth conviction is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $2,000- $5,000 fine. This is a level 3 crime under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code.

Additional and higher punishments will be handed down if the blood alcohol content is over .15%, if a child is on board, if there is property damage, or a fatality results. 

Other Causes of Boat Accidents 


There are many other causes of boat accidents than Boating Under the Influence. A major cause is excessive speed. While there is technically no speed limit out on the open seas, it’s important to always maintain control and be aware of any surrounding boaters or other impediments. There were 43 reported accidents in Florida in 2022 related to excessive speed.

Here is an explanation of speed limitations that are typically posted in Florida waterways: 

  •  “Idle Speed, No Wake” Zone: This is a designated area where vessels must be operated at a speed no greater than that which is necessary to maintain steerage and headway. No wake should be produced at this speed. 
  • “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” Zone:  These are designated areas where vessels must be completely settled in the water. Any wake created by a vessel in one of these zones must be minimal. If your boat is moving with the bow even slightly elevated while in one of these zones, it is not proceeding at “Slow Speed” as required by law.
  • Maximum 25 MPH, 30 MPH, and 35 MPH Speed Zones: Controlled areas within which a vessel must not exceed posted speed.For example, the Intercoastal Waterway’s posted speed in most places is 25 MPH.
  • Vessel Exclusion Area: An area marked with a vertical diamond shape with a cross in the center that indicates all vessels or certain classes of vessels are excluded from the area.

Additionally, temporary zones are areas established for certain vessels in accordance with Florida’s so-called “Move Over Law.” If a vessel approaches an emergency vessel—such as one belonging to a local marine unit, or the U.S. Coast Guard with its lights activated, that vessel must operate at slow speed, with a minimum wake, within 300 feet of the emergency vessel. 


Drowning caused 81% of boating fatalities in Florida in 2022. It may come as a great surprise, but many victims don’t wear life jackets, even though they significantly reduce the risk of drowning. A study by the U.S. Coast Guard found that 86% of drowning victims in recreational boating accidents weren’t wearing life jackets.

Inexperienced Boat Operators 

Inexperienced boat drivers also contribute to injuries and fatalities on Florida waterways. Inexperienced boaters are more likely to ignore speed limits, and lack the command of their boats that more experienced boaters have. 

How To Boat Safely

The FWC advises boaters in Florida to ensure safe boating practices in several ways:

  • Wear a lifejacket
  • Enroll in a boating safety course
  • Do not drink and drive a boat
  • Check the weather
  • Register an emergency locator beacon
  • Have a designated driver
  • File a float plan

Contact a West Palm Beach Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you’ve sustained a personal injury from a boating accident that was not your fault, our entire team of lawyers, trained paralegals, thorough investigators, and other professionals support you in crafting the best strategy for your personal injury case. We are knowledgeable and effective, and most importantly, we care about you and your case. The team of Searcy Denney, Scarola Barnhart & Shipley has fostered a culture of excellence for more than 45 years. Contact us today at 800-780-8607.

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