On a hot, summer day, one of the recreational activities that residents and visitors of Charlotte, North Carolina (NC) enjoy the most is boating. Whether on Lake Norman, Lake Wylie, Mount Island Lake, or one of the areas other rivers, lakes, or waterways, this boating is almost always accompanied by the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, this combination often leads to criminal charges in the form of Boating While Impaired (BWI), often referred to as Boating Under the Influence (BUI).
Boating While Impaired (BWI) Statute
North Carolina General Statute (N.C.G.S.) 75A-10(b1) lays the groundwork for the crime of Boating While Impaired. It states:
No person shall operate any vessel while underway on the waters of this State:
- While under the influence of an impairing substance, or
- After having consumed sufficient alcohol that the person has, at any relevant time after the boating, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.
Additionally, N.C.G.S. 75A-10(b) states:
No person shall manipulate any water skis, surfboard, nonmotorized vessel, or similar device on the waters of this State while under the influence of an impairing substance.
Drunk Boating versus Drunk Driving
While there are similarities between BWI and Driving While Impaired (DWI), there are many important distinctions as well.
A Law Officer May Board A Boat At Any Time
First, a law enforcement agency can stop a boater at any time in order to conduct a safety check, that is, to ensure the boat has the proper safety equipment (i.e. fire extinguishers, life jackets, etc.). This often leads to an officer boarding the boat, and a BWI investigation. With a DWI, an officer must have reasonable suspicion, that is specific and articulable facts that criminal activity is afoot, to stop the driver of a motor vehicle.
Additionally, BWI is not an implied consent offense. Unlike a driver charged with DWI, a person charged with BWI as a boater, skier, or surfer is not considered to have consented to a chemical analysis (i.e. breath and blood tests). If arrested for DWI, refusal to submit to such chemical analysis results in a one year civil driver’s license revocation. However, there is no driver’s license implications when a person arrested for BWI refuses to submit to chemical analysis. Absent consent or exigent circumstances, an officer must obtain a search warrant to conduct a blood test of a person charged with BWI.
Finally, the sentencing of a BWI and DWI conviction differ as well. Per N.C.G.S. 75A-10(b4), BWI is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250.00). In addition to the fine, a BWI conviction is sentenced like any other Class 2 misdemeanor. While DWI is also a misdemeanor, sentencing of a DWI conviction occurs under an entirely separate statute and sentencing scheme, specifically, N.C.G.S. 20-179.
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