Boating Under the Influence in North Carolina: What You Need to Know

Advice / Felonies / Misdemeanors / 06.21.2017

Summer is officially underway, and that means our Intracoastal Waterway and east coast shores are once again busy with boats and vessels steered by both locals and tourists. Boating is second nature to our area – if you don’t have a boat, you probably know someone who does. And while it’s a fun and relaxing activity we enjoy during the warmer months, boating comes with its own set of laws, especially regarding driving under the influence.

In North Carolina, operating a motorboat or vessel under the influence of alcohol is prohibited. Boating under the influence (also known as BUI) is also enforced for water skiing, surfing, and operating non-motorized vessels like sailboats and paddleboards. Just like driving a vehicle, people can be convicted if they have an alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more. Most BUIs are considered Class 2 misdemeanors, for which offenders typically face $250 – $1,000 in fines, plus a maximum of 60 days in jail. In many cases, judges will sentence offenders to probation with a fine instead of jail time.

Last year North Carolina passed “Sheyenne’s Law,” which falls more in line with DWI penalties by increasing the consequences for those convicted of a BUI. The bill was named after Sheyenne Marshall, a teenager killed on North Carolina’s Lake Norman by a drunken boater. This bill sends a strong message that drunk boating is just as dangerous as drunk automobile driving, and should be taken seriously. Originally classified as a misdemeanor, Sheyenne’s Law now makes fatality or any serious injury occurring from drunken boating a felony, which can greatly range in the amount of years spent in prison depending on the seriousness of the accident. Here is a breakdown of the new penalties:

  • Serious Injury by Impaired Boating. Causing serious injury to another can be convicted of a Class F felony, which carries 10 – 41 months in prison.
  • Aggravated Serious Injury by Impaired Boating. Causing serious injury to another person and has a previous BUI conviction within the past seven years can be convicted of a class E felony, which carries 36-60 months in prison.
  • Death by Impaired Boating. Causing death of another person can be convicted of a Class D felony, which carries 38-160 months in prison.
  • Aggravated Death by Impaired Boating. Causing death of another person and has a previous BUI conviction within the past seven years can be convicted of an aggravated Class D felony, which carries 64-160 months in prison.
  • Repeated Death by Impaired Boating. Causing 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, which carries 94-393 months in prison.

Since the issue of Sheyenne’s Law, North Carolina, including our very own state law officials at Wrightsville Beach, have stated there would be additional enforcement on the road and water during holiday weekends and summer months. This includes checkpoints on boat ramps to further prevent drunk boating. The reason for checkpoints in those locations? Because drunken boating can transition into drunk driving when boaters hook their vessels onto their vehicles and get back on the road.

If you’ve been charged with boating under the influence in North Carolina, contact Brett Wentz, your local Wilmington, NC felony and criminal defense attorney. At Wentz Law Firm, it’s our duty to inform you on how North Carolina BUI law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide the best course of action to take next.

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