Boating While Impaired (BWI/BUI) Charges

North Carolina laws that govern penalties for driving motor vehicles while impaired (DWI) also extend to operating a motorboat for vessel while under the influence of an impairing substance (BWI or BUI). Under North Carolina law (N.C.G.S. § 75A-10), a person can be convicted of a BWI for:

  • Operating a vessel while under the influence of an impairing substance; and
  • Having a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or more at a relevant time after boating.

BWI charges are not just limited to motorized boats. It also applies to the use of water skis, surfboards, nonmotorized vessels or any similar device used while under the influence of an impairing substance. Like with DWI, an impairing substance is not just limited to alcohol, but any substance that can cause impairment, including legally acquired prescription drugs or over the counter medication.

police going after people committing a BUI

BWI/BUI Charges and Penalties

Most BWI convictions are class 2 misdemeanors and the sentence imposed often depend on the offender’s criminal history. Typically, a BWI conviction will mean a fine of $250 to $1000 and a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail. It is also common to be sentenced to just supervised or unsupervised probation along with the fine. However, North Carolina has enacted harsher penalties for BWI in cases that involve aggravating factors. These penalties, which were enacted in June 2016 under “Sheyenne’s Law” after a teenager who was killed by a drunk boater, are as follows:

  • Serious Injury by Impaired Boating: A BWI offender causes serious injury to another person due to their impaired boating. Conviction is a class F felony with a penalty of 10 to 41 months in prison.
  • Aggravated Serious Injury by Impaired Boating: A BWI offender has a previous BWI conviction within the past seven years of the current BWI offense. Conviction is a class E felony, which carries a 15 to 63-month prison sentence. The past DWI offense does not need to have involved serious injury for the current offense to be considered aggravated.
  • Death by Impaired Boating: A BWI offender causes the death of another person due to their impaired boating. Conviction is a class D felony with a penalty 38 to 160 months in prison.
  • Aggravated Death by Impaired Boating: A BWI offender who has a prior conviction of death by impaired boating and commits another death by impaired boating. Conviction is a class B2 felony with a penalty of 94 to 393 months in prison.

Defending BWI/BUI Charges

Even though a BWI charge may not sound as serious as a DWI charge, from a legal standpoint they carry nearly the same consequences. People can often make the mistake of undermining the severity of such charges and let their guard down when approached by law enforcement who suspect they are guilty of a BUI. While we always recommend that you exercise your Miranda rights in situations like this, we understand that these situations can come as a surprise to people and that you may mistakenly self-incriminate. Regardless of how you may have handled a BWI arrest situation, our skilled attorneys can carefully dissect your arrest record and build an effective defense against any serious charges.

If you are facing BWI charges, get in contact with our DWI/BWI attorneys. We can help explain all the complexities of North Carolina BWI laws and help in taking the best course of action that will achieve the most favorable outcomes in your case.

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