Does DWI Apply While Drinking On a Boat?

Friends drinking on a boat committing DWI.

With thousands of miles of open waters and more than 300,000 registered vessels, boating is a favorite pastime in North Carolina. People use North Carolina waterways every year for fishing, water skiing, sailing, and other recreational activities.

Many people enjoy a beer, wine, or a mixed drink during a day on the water. But it is important to remember to do so safely. While drinking on a boat is not illegal, operating a boat if you are under the influence of an intoxicating substance or if your blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit is.

Can You Drink and Drive on a Boat?

North Carolina General Statute §75A-10 makes it illegal to operate a vessel while under the influence of an impairing substance or with an alcohol concentration of .08% or more. Under the statute, in addition to powerboats and sailboats, “vessel” also includes surfboards, water skis, non-motorized boats, and paddleboards. You can be charged with Boating While Under the Influence (BWI) if your alcohol content is above .08% or if the officer believes you are under the influence of an intoxicating substance.

Multiple law enforcement agencies have concurrent jurisdiction over the water. The US Coast Guard is tasked with maintaining maritime security and can stop you if they believe you are operating a vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission also has jurisdiction over North Carolina waterways and enforces boating laws within the state.

Differences Between BWI Charges and DWI Charges

Many people confuse Boating While Under the Influence (BWI) and Driving While Under the Influence (DWI). While they share many similarities, they are different criminal offenses and are enforced under different criminal statutes with penalties set under different guidelines.

Misdemeanor BWI

If you are charged with operating a boat while under the influence and do not cause harm to anyone else, you will be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by 60 days in jail. In addition, the judge may impose fines, community service, and a suspension of your boating privileges.

Felony BWI

If you operate a boat while under the influence and someone is injured or killed, you will face felony charges. The penalties you face will vary depending on the severity of the result of impaired boating.

Arrested While Drinking on a Boat?

Many BWI charges result from law enforcement officers who suspect you are boating while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Others begin with a routine inspection of the vessel, and during the interaction, the officers came to suspect you were boating under the influence. In still other situations, a BWI charge results from a sobriety checkpoint on the water, similar to a roadside checkpoint for DWI, where you are suspected of drinking on a boat with a BAC that is over the legal limit.

When boaters are stopped under suspicion of BWI, law enforcement agents can terminate the voyage and bring the vessel to a mooring or place the vessel under the control of a non-intoxicated person on board.

The person suspected of BWI will be asked to perform standardized sobriety tests similar to those you would perform if you are suspected of DWI. You will also be asked to submit to a breath test. But unlike a DWI, where your license will be suspended for refusing to blow, there is no penalty if you refuse to take the breath test when you are suspected of BWI.

Will Your License Be Suspended After a BWI Charge?

Unlike a DWI charge, which results in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license, license suspension after a BWI charge is more nuanced and is done at the discretion of the court. A BWI charge alone is unlikely to result in the suspension of your driver’s license. However, if your driver’s license is already suspended because of a DWI charge, a BWI charge could result in an additional suspension.

In addition, if you were charged with BWI while operating a commercial vessel, the court can order the suspension or revocation of your license to operate a commercial vessel, which could affect your ability to earn a living.

Defending Against a BWI Charge

If you have been charged with BWI in North Carolina and refuse to take the breath test, the only evidence the officer is left with is their impression that you were operating the vessel erratically and your performance on Field Sobriety Tests. Field Sobriety Tests are difficult to perform under the best of conditions. As you can imagine, it is more difficult to stand on one leg, walk and turn, and perform other balance tests while on the water.

If you took the breath test and your alcohol content was above .08%, your defense attorney may be able to challenge the results of the breath tests, whether the test was administered properly, and whether the results are reliable. He can also investigate whether your constitutional rights were violated.

Charged with Boating While Under the Influence? The Stowe Law Firm Can Help!

If you have been charged with BWI in North Carolina, the Stowe Law Firm can help. During your initial consultation, we will ask questions to learn about the circumstances that led to your arrest. We will carefully analyze your situation, identify your options, and mount a vigorous legal defense to ensure the best possible outcome.

The Stowe Law Firm is based in Salisbury, North Carolina, and proudly represents people in Rowan County, Davidson County, Davie County, Cabarrus County, and Stanly County.

We invite you to learn more about our BWI defense practice and to contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your situation.

Categories: DWI