Boating While Impaired

Boat racing across a lake

While an ice cold beer can be great under several circumstances, you should reconsider if you’re about to get on a boat. This is because operating a boat while impaired increases the risk of accidents both to yourself and others. In fact, the current state of Boating While Impaired laws in North Carolina are due to a boating accident where intoxication was involved.

In 2015, Sheyenne Marshall was killed in a boating accident by a man who had been drinking on a boat. This led to lobbying for the creation of stricter and more specific laws prohibiting and punishing boating under the influence in North Carolina. The result of this was Sheyenne’s Law passed in 2016 which provides for more severe sanctions for a BWI conviction.

Many people often confuse Driving While Impaired (DWI) with Boating While Impaired (BWI). They are different offenses under North Carolina laws and their punishments are set under different sentencing categories. Sometimes people call boating while impaired Boating Under the Influence (BUI).

North Carolina Law of Boating While Impaired

Boating while impaired occurs when you operate a water vessel under the influence of intoxicants like drugs or alcohol. Drugs in this context include prescription, over the counter, legal or illegal substances. This is why NC takes BWI very seriously as it may lead to severe injuries and fatality to third parties.

Patrol officers on the waterways are responsible for enforcing these laws and can pull you over when they suspect drunk boating. A BWI charge may also be brought against you even if you feel you weren’t intoxicated at the time of arrest. What matters most is that the defendant exceeds the legal limit imposed under NC laws.

The BWI charge is not merely for boats alone. It also applies to other water vessels such as surfboards, water skis, non-motorized vessels, paddleboards etc. You may be charged with boating under the influence if you surf or ski while drunk or impaired by drugs. Examples of acts that amount to BUI include:

  • Surfing or Skiing after consuming multiple alcoholic drinks resulting in a .08 BAC
  • Operating a commercial boat after casually drinking with colleagues aboard and recording a .08 BAC
  • Operating a speedboat while intoxicated with cocaine or impaired by intake of OTC drugs
  • Under NC laws, having a Blood Alcohol Content of .08 at any relevant time after boating also qualifies as BWI

The offense may generally be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony in North Carolina. These will result in different consequences and penalties.

BWI as a Misdemeanor

Prior to the Sheyenne Law, most BUI charges were brought as Class 2 Misdemeanors. The difference now is that if your actions do not cause harm to someone else you can still be charged with a misdemeanor. However, if your actions cause injuries or death to someone else, you may be charged with a felony under NC laws.

The penalties upon conviction for a class 2 Misdemeanor charge is usually a jail term up to 60 days. The court may also impose probation in the alternative. Further penalties include suspension of boating privileges, fines and community service.

BWI as a Felony

As earlier mentioned, the BUI felony charge was created as a result of the Sheyenne law passed in 2016. It provides for stricter penalties for several classes of felonies depending on the result of impaired boating. The charge may be brought as a class B2, class D or class E Felony with varying consequences as will be discussed below;

  • Serious Injury by Impaired Boating: If boating under the influence leads to an accident causing serious injury to another it will be charged as a Class F felony. It carries a prison term of up to 59 months upon conviction.
  • Aggravated Serious Injury by impaired Boating: In the event that there is a repeat offense of causing serious injuries while boating under the influence a person may be charged under this heading. It is a class E felony carrying a penalty of imprisonment for up to 88 months. This applies where the defendant has been convicted of Boating under the Influence within seven years of an additional charge.
  • Death by Impaired boating: If the BUI causes the death of another person, the defendant will be charged with a class D felony. The penalty upon successful conviction is imprisonment for a term of up to 204 months.
  • Aggravated death by impaired boating: This is applicable where the BWI causes the death of another person and the defendant has been previously convicted of a BWI within 7 years of the fresh charge. It is a class D felony carrying an imprisonment term of 64 to 160 months upon conviction.
  • Repeated death by Impaired Boating: This applies where the BWI causes death of another person and the defendant has a prior conviction for death by Impaired Boating or aggravated death by impaired boating. It is a Class B2 Felony carrying an Imprisonment term of up to 484 months.

Aside from the above penalties, a conviction for a BWI charge may also carry any of the following penalties which may be imposed at the discretion of the court:

  • Suspension or revocation of your boating license. If it involves a commercial vessel, the court may also order the suspension or revocation of the commercial vessel license.
  • Imposition of a fine.
  • A permanent criminal record which could greatly inconvenience your everyday life in future including job, finance, access to mortgage etc.
  • Mandatory rehabilitation order.

How we can help you

Defending against a BUI charge is best done through an experienced criminal defense attorney. As a result, taking decisions on your case without speaking to an experienced lawyer is ill-advised. This is because drunk boating cases in NC are very complex. You will need to proceed with full understanding of the BWI laws and defenses available to you.

When you contact us at Stowe Law Firm, we will proceed to evaluate the facts of your case. We will then inform you of the relevant laws, your rights and defenses that may be available to you. Through a case evaluation we can explore possible defenses and mitigating circumstances.

With the understanding that the variations in facts determine the applicable laws, we can put up a compelling defense on your case to ensure the best possible outcome. As your attorney, we will also conduct investigations if the facts of your case warrants same.

Consult a competent Criminal Defense lawyer

Are you facing a criminal charge of Boating under the influence? North Carolina does not take Boating While Impaired with levity. You shouldn’t either. It may appear less serious than a DWI charge but a conviction may carry severe consequences.

Our local BUI defense lawyer regularly helps people who are charged with BWI in NC. Contact us to book an initial consultation or reach out to us by placing a phone call to 704-856-9502.