What You Need to Know About Boating While Impaired (BWI) Laws in North Carolina
In 2016, North Carolina enacted Sheyenne’s Law in response to an alcohol-induced boating accident that lead to 17-year-old Sheyenne Marshall’s death. The bill acts to “provide an increased penalty for impaired boating resulting in death or serious injury and to clarify the penalty for impaired boating.”
For North Carolina boaters, these newer penalties mean understanding the law is an imperative part of enjoying time on the water. According to NC law, a person is prohibited from operating a motorboat or vessel while “under the influence” which simply means the person has taken enough of a given substance “to lose the normal control of his [or her] bodily or mental faculties, or both, to such an extent that there is an appreciable impairment of either or both of these faculties.” (N.C.G.S.A. § 75A-10(b1) (2016); State v. Blankenship, 229 N.C. 589 (1948).). The State considers a vessel to not only be motorized boats, but also water skis, surfboards, nonmotorized vessels (i.e. sailboat, paddleboard, etc), or similar devices.
A person in North Carolina can be convicted of boating while impaired (BWI) for operating a vessel while under the influence of an impairing substance, OR having a BAC of 0.08 or more at any relevant time after boating.
Unlike with DWI, law enforcement officers citing BWI/BUI do not need probable cause to stop a boat; this means they don’t need to believe a crime has been or will be committed in order to investigate the safety of a boating-related situation. It is always best practice to follow all boating regulations to ensure the safety of yourself and others.
What are the penalties?
BWI is a Class 2 misdemeanor and the Court’s sentence will depend on the criminal history of the offender, although periods of probation, either supervised or unsupervised, in addition to fines are commonly seen. More severe consequences can include $250 to $1,000 in fines and a maximum of 60 days in jail. A BWI conviction does NOT affect someone’s driver’s license.
“Serious injury by impaired boating.” A BUI offender who causes “serious injury” to another person can be convicted of a class F felony—an offense that carries ten to 41 months in prison.
“Aggravated serious injury by impaired boating.” A BUI offender who causes serious injury to another person and has a BUI conviction within the past seven years can be convicted of a class E felony—an offense that carries 15 to 63 months in prison.
“Death by impaired boating.” A BUI offender who causes the death of another person can be convicted of a class D felony—an offense that carries 38 to 160 months in prison.
“Aggravated death by impaired boating.” A BUI offender who causes the death of another person and has a BUI conviction within the past seven years can be convicted of an aggravated class D felony—an offense that carries 64 and 160 months in prison.
“Repeat death by impaired boating.” A BUI offender who causes the death of another person and has a prior conviction for death by impaired boating or aggravated death by impaired boating can be convicted of a class B2 felony—an offense that carries 94 and 393 months in prison.
What to do if you’re charged with BWI
The implementation of Sheyenne’s Law urges individuals to consider the consequences of over-indulging while boating. If you find yourself charged with boating under the influence in North Carolina, be sure to contact an attorney who understands the law and can provide you with excellent representation.