North Carolina’s Boating Under the Influence Laws

Read about the consequences of boating under the influence (BUI) in North Carolina.

North Carolina law prohibits operating a motorboat or vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The state's boating under the influence (BUI) laws cover not only motorized boats, but also water skis, surfboards, nonmotorized vessels (such as a sailboat or paddleboat), and other similar devices. (N.C.G.S.A. § 75A-10(b) (2016)). A person can be convicted of a BUI for either:

  • operating a vessel while under the influence of an impairing substance, or
  • having “at any relevant time after boating, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.”

“Under the influence” means the person has taken enough drugs and/or alcohol “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).)

BWI Penalties

Most North Carolina BUIs are class 2 misdemeanors. The sentence a court can impose depends on the offender’s criminal history. But generally, North Carolina BUI offenders face $250 to $1,000 in fines and a maximum of 60 days in jail. It’s common for judges to sentence BUI offenders to probation, either supervised or unsupervised, and pay a fine.

(N.C.G.S.A. §§ 15A-1340.23(b) & (c), 75A-10(b4) (2016).)

Sheyenne’s Law

North Carolina enacted “Sheyenne’s Law” in June 2016. The new legislation—effective December 1, 2016—enhances the consequences for certain BUI offenses. The new penalties are:

  • “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.

In addition to imprisonment, a judge can impose a fine for any of the BUI classifications involving injury or death.

(N.C.G.S.A. §75A-10.3(f) (2016)).

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to an Attorney

If you’ve been arrested for or charged with boating under the influence in North Carolina, get in contact with an experienced BUI attorney. The facts of every case are different. A good BUI attorney should be able to explain how North Carolina BUI law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide the best course of action.

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