Boating Under the Influence - Tactics and Weapons -

Boating Under the Influence

Helpful Insights from a Florida Wildlife Lieutenant



Bob Lee | From the April 2008 Issue Monday, March 31, 2008

It was the BUI from hell, says Lieutenant George Pottorf of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), recalling an arrest he made for boating under the influence (BUI). It s a case that Pottorf likes to tell his new officers about because it illustrates many variables of BUI enforcement and demonstrates how a seemingly innocent boating stop can quickly turn into a nightmare.

Caloosahatchee River, 1993

I was patrolling a desolate area of the Caloosahatchee River in southwest Florida one afternoon, says Pottorf, when I stopped a small motor boat for no registration numbers. The vessel was occupied by two adult males and the deck was littered with beer cans. The operator, who was a construction worker in his early 30s, started shouting in a slurred voice, Is this how you treat Vietnam vets? I did the math real quick, and it didn t add up. He would have been too young for Vietnam.

Pottorf had the operator get in his boat, where he started to administer a series of afloat field sobriety tasks. A few minutes later the operator said, I ve had enough of this, and jumped overboard, swimming back toward his own vessel, which had drifted away. I drove my boat around and cut him off by placing my boat between him and his boat, says Pottorf. I talked him into getting back in my boat and then placed him under arrest for BUI.

I got one cuff on him before he broke bad on me. We wrestled for a couple of minutes, as I tried to get his arm around behind him. Then he pushed away from me and picked up my paddle, holding it like a hatchet. I lunged at him, snatching the paddle away and throwing it overboard. We wrestled again, and he was still trying to get back in the water. I was holding onto the cuffs when he yanked me off of the upper deck, causing me to do a somersault over the top of him; then he rolled over on top of me. I knew then I would have to hurt him to gain control, says Pottorf.

Unexpectedly, Pottorf heard a voice, Officer, do you need a hand? A muscle- bound 16-year-old boy had seen the ruckus and pulled alongside in his own boat to offer help.

Pottorf yelled, I need help right now!

The teenager jumped in the boat, yanked the operator s head up by the hair and swung his fist, connecting with a vicious right cross. When I felt him go limp, I pulled his other arm behind his back and finally got him cuffed, says Pottorf.

Pottorf called dispatch and requested backup to be waiting at a boat ramp two miles away.

The teenager tied his boat off to the bank then sat on the operator, who was still thrashing around and trying to jump out of the boat. Pottorf motored toward the ramp with the operator s boat in tow. The passenger, who was also intoxicated, sat quietly in the operator s boat. Both the passenger and the operator had life vests on.

I was towing the operator s boat at an idle speed, says Pottorf, when I heard a yell. I looked over my shoulder and saw that the operator s boat had flipped over. The passenger was treading water and all of the vessel s belongings were drifting away. I put the passenger in my boat, then continued to tow the operator s boat, now upside down, to the boat ramp.

I don t have words to describe how good it felt when I pulled into that boat ramp and found two of our officers waiting for me with a flatbed tow truck.

Present Day

Pottorf has 23 years with the FWC and currently supervises a squad of five officers. Their patrol area covers 80 miles of the St. Johns River in northeast Florida, from Jacksonville south to Lake George. He is recognized in the agency as an expert in making BUI arrests.

When Pottorf trains his officers in making BUI arrests, he breaks the procedure down into different categories, much like you would a DUI arrest, except that there are different variables to consider on the water.

The different categories he covers in his instruction are described below.

Reason to Stop

A lot of officers are under the impression that we can make stops for no reason on the water, says Pottorf. That is not true. There is always a reason, and an officer defending a stop in court needs to be able to articulate that reason.

Three legal reasons to make a boating stop in Florida include:

1. Probable cause: The cause can be for something very minor, such as improper spacing of numbers, or for something more obvious, such as a boat blowing through a slow speed zone on a full plane.

2. Administrative inspection for persons engaged in fishing.

3. Administrative inspection of a vessel s safety equipment.

Justification for stops under sections two and three can be found in the Florida Supreme Court Case of State v. Casal (410 So. 2d 152 Fla. 1982). It says that law enforcement officers have the authority to conduct random stops and limited searches to ensure compliance with boating and fishing regulations, such as proper safety equipment, boat registration, possession of fishing licenses and compliance with bag limits.

Tips for Detecting BUI s

An officer may suspect or detect BUI under the following conditions:

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Bob LeeBob Lee retired from FWC after 30 years of service. He is one of the lead man-tracking instructors at the FWC Academy. He has previously written articles for law enforcement and outdoor magazines. Contact him at


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