Boating While Impaired

Some North Carolina residents are surprised to learn that they can face criminal charges for boating while under the influence (BWI). A BWI charge is different than a charge of driving while under the influence (DWI), but the consequences can be just as serious. A fun day boating on North Carolina’s Outer Banks can quickly turn into a life changing event when law enforcement officers show up. BWI charges are not limited to the summertime, either. Law enforcement officers patrol the waterways and arrest people year-round on BWI charges.

Our Charlotte BWI Lawyers can Help

Whether you were boating on Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake, the Catawba river, Lake Wylie or on the Outer Banks, facing a BWI charge can be intimidating. The consequences for a BWI conviction are just as serious as those for a DWI conviction. If you are facing a BWI charge in North Carolina contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today. Time is of the essence to maximize your defense options and our attorney can help you aggressively defend your rights. We will investigate the facts of your case and look for law enforcement errors and evidence that will help us your defense. Contact our law firm today to schedule your free case evaluation.

What Constitutes a BWI?

North Carolina enacted Sheyenne’s Law after a 17-year-old died in a boating accident caused by a drunk boater. The law made the penalties for a BWI harsher. A BWI occurs when the operator of a vessel or motorboat is under the influence of an impairing substance. Being under the influence means that the person consumed enough of a substance to “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.” A defendant can face BWI charges when they do either of the two following:

  • Receive BAC results of .08 or more at any relevant time after operating a boat, or
  • Operating a boat or vessel while under the influence of an impairing substance

North Carolina law also states that no person shall use or manipulate water skis, a surfboard or any nonmotorized vessel or similar device on the waters of the state of North Carolina while under the influence of an impairing substance. Essentially this section of the law makes it illegal to water ski behind a boat or go surfing at the beach while under the influence of an impairing substance. The law also prohibits canoeing, kayaking or operating or other “nonmotorized vessels” while under the influence of an impairing substance.

Do Law Enforcement Officers Need Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion to Stop a Boat?

No, unlike with a DWI charge, North Carolina law enforcement officials do not need to have probable cause to stop a boat. According to N.C.G.S. 75A-17(a) “wildlife protector and every other law-enforcement officer of this State and its subdivisions shall have the authority to enforce the provisions of this Chapter and in the exercise thereof shall have authority to stop any vessel subject to this Chapter; and, after having identified himself in his official capacity, shall have authority to board and inspect any vessel subject to this Chapter.” North Carolina courts have upheld the constitutionality of this law and do permit law enforcement officers to conduct to board vessels without probable cause for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of the Boating Safety Chapter of the North Carolina General Statutes.

BWI Penalties in North Carolina

Unlike with a DWI conviction, a BWI conviction will not affect the defendant’s driver’s license. Conviction of a BWI can come with fines and jail times. The sentencing of a convicted defendant depends on the facts of the case. When defendants have previous BWI convictions on their record, they face harsher penalties. Additionally, when a person dies or receives a serious injury as a result of the accident, the consequences will be more severe.

Conviction of a BWI is a Class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. When the defendant’s boating while under the influence caused a serious injury, the crime is a class F felony. Those convicted of a Class F felony face anywhere from 10 to 41 months of prison time. Those who commit a serious injury by impaired boating face a class E felony which comes with a corresponding possible sentence of anywhere from 15 to 63 months in prison.

What Happens When a BWI Causes Another Person’s Death?

When a BWI causes another person’s death, the defendant can be charged with a class D felony. In North Carolina, Class D felonies carry a possible prison sentence of 38 to 160-months in prison. When the defendant causes an aggravated death by impaired boating, he or she faces between 64 and 160 months in prison.

Similar to DWI convictions, the sentence for a BWI is even more severe when the defendant receives a second BWI conviction. When a BWI defendant causes the death of another person and has a prior conviction for causing death through a BWI, the penalties are serious. A second aggravated death conviction is a class B2 felony. This conviction comes with a possible sentence of up to a 94 to 393-month sentence.

Our Charlotte BWI Defense Lawyers can Help

If you have been charged with a BWI, our skilled defense lawyers can help. Contact our Charlotte region criminal defense law firm today to learn how we can help fight for your rights. If you or a loved one are facing a North Carolina BWI charge, you need the representation of a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer. Our knowledgeable BWI defense lawyers can provide you with skilled defense representation. Now taking cases throughout the greater Charlotte region with offices in Uptown Charlotte, Mooresville and Monroe.