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Boaters under 21 Years Old

Under Section 327.355(1), Florida law prohibits a person under the age of 21 who has a breath-alcohol level of 0.02 or higher to operate or be in actual physical control of a vessel even if the person’s normal faculties are not impaired.

The statute is unusual for several reasons. For instance, a violation of this section is a noncriminal infraction as explained in Section 327.355(4).

BUI Zero Tolerance Non-Criminal Infractions

What are the penalties for this noncriminal infraction? Under Section 327.355(5), a person convicted of a violation of subsection (1) shall be ordered by the court to:

  • Enroll in, attend, and successfully complete, at his or her own expense, a classroom or online boating safety course that meets minimum standards established by commission rule.
  • Participate in public service or a community work project for a minimum of 50 hours; and
  • Refrain from operating any vessel until the 50 hours of public service or community work has been performed.

Any person who operates any vessel on the waters in Florida with their vessel operating privilege is suspended pursuant to this section commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

Keep in mind that if the boater’s normal faculties are impaired, then the young person might also be arrested for the criminal offense of BUI (the same way an adult might be arrested for the same offense of BUI). BUI is a criminal offense with criminal penalties.

The statute specially provides that being charged with the non-criminal infraction does not bar a criminal prosecution for BUI under s. 327.35.

Detentions under Florida’s Zero Tolerance BUI

If a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that a vessel is being operated by a person who is under the age of 21 years old who has any breath-alcohol level, then the officer may lawfully detain the person and request that the person to submit to a test to determine their breath-alcohol level (BAL).

Refusal to Submit to Testing for Florida’s Zero Tolerance Provision

If the person under the age of 21 refuses to submit to such testing, the law enforcement officer shall warn the person that failure to submit to the breath test will result in the required performance of 50 hours of public service and that his or her vessel operating privilege will be suspended until the public service is performed.

Failure or refusal to submit to a breath test after this warning is a violation of Section 327.355(1).

Under Section 327.355(2), any person under the age of 21 years old who operates a vessel is deemed to have expressed consent to testing.

Admissibility of the Preliminary Alcohol Screening Test Device

Under Section 327.355(3), the breath test to determine breath-alcohol level pursuant to this section may be conducted as authorized by s. 316.1932 or s. 327.352, or by a preliminary alcohol screening test device listed in the United States Department of Transportation’s conforming-product list of evidential breath-measurement devices.

The statute provides that the reading from such a device is admissible in evidence in “any trial or hearing” for this non-criminal infraction only.


This article was last updated on Tuesday, October 27, 2020.

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