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Boating Under The Influence In North Carolina

Everyone on the road knows that driving while impaired (DWI) is a serious offense. What you might not know, though, is that operating a boat within North Carolina waters is also a crime – so keep that in mind before you grab that case of beers and invite your friends for a day on the lake.

What Is “Boating While Impaired” In North Carolina?

Here’s the legalese: Per North Carolina General Statute § 75A-10, no person may operate any vessel on the waters of North Carolina:

  1. While under the influence of an impairing substance
  2. With a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 or more

It is also illegal to operate water skis, surfboards, nonmotorized vessels or similar devices on the water while under the influence of an impairing substance. It is important to highlight that this broad definition includes nonmotorized vehicles such as surfboards or potentially boogie boards.

In layman’s speak: If you want to enjoy some cold ones while out on the water, that’s fine – but take caution.

BWI (Boating While Impaired) FAQs:

How are BWI arrests made? What can I be stopped for?

Law enforcement officers patrol the waters. But unlike on land, officers do not need probable cause to stop a boat for inspection. They can stop any boat that appears to be operating dangerously. They can also stop boats to conduct routine safety inspections to check for things like the proper number of life vests or registration. During any of these stops, an officer can conduct a BWI investigation if they believe the boat operator is under the influence.

Do I have to take a breath test? What happens if I refuse?

You do not have to take a breath test if stopped for a suspected BWI. Unlike during a DWI arrest, where a refusal usually results in an automatic suspension of your driver’s license for a year, there are no such consequences to a boat operator. You can refuse to take a test without fear of any immediate consequences.

Will I lose my driver’s license if I get a BWI?

A BWI does not have any effect on your driver’s license. The DMV will not revoke or suspend your driver’s license for a BWI.

What Are the Consequences of a BWI?

Most BWI convictions are Class 2 misdemeanors and are punishable by a fine of between $250 and $1,000, and up to sixty days in jail.

In recent years, Sheyenne’s Law, named after the 17-year-old girl killed by a drunken boater in 2015, added a felony classification to the state’s BWI laws. If an impaired boater causes great bodily injury or death, a boater will likely be charged with a Class F felony, and the consequences include harsh fines and between 15 to 25 years in prison.

Simply stated, BWI charges can potentially carry severe penalties, including fines and jail time. If you have been charged with a BWI, call us at 984-600-3090.