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Boating Under the Influence (BUI)

As you know, DWI is a serious charge. Boating Under the Influence (BUI) or Boating While Impaired (BWI) is also a serious criminal charge. If you or someone you know has recently been arrested for BUI or BWI, please contact defense attorney Bill Powers of the Law Offices of Powers Law Firm. Bill Powers regularly helps people charged with BWI in North Carolina.

It is important to understand that BWI is a separate and distinct criminal charge from Driving While Impaired. The punishments, at least on a statutory basis, are set from a different sentencing category. Driving While Impaired is separate and distinct.

Alcohol is a known depressant that affects your physical and mental abilities whether you're driving down the highway or operating a boat.  For that matter, in North Carolina is it possible to be charged with and convicted of Driving While Impaired on a bicycle, lawn mower or golf cart.  Presently it appears the only “vehicle” not subject to the DWI law is a horse. Again, there is an important distinction between a vehicle, as may be operated on a public road or highway and a vessel that is being operated on a waterway, lake, river or pond.  It is also important to note that in certain circumstances, there may be the possibility of BWI in federally protected waterways such as the Intracoastal Waterway or federally owned lands, lakes, etc. The problem with drinking and operating a boat is that new factors come into play. The sun, wind, motion of the boat and spray from other boats and waves can make the affects of alcohol seem that much more intense. That's why a BWI is considered a serious criminal charge in the eyes of the law.

Obviously if you are on a boat, you are relaxing and enjoying yourself so having a few drinks may not seem like anything out of the ordinary. However you can cause serious injury to yourself or even others on the water if you're not careful. In fact, nearly 35% of all fatal boating accidents involve someone who has been drinking alcohol.

How can I be Charged With BWI or BUI?

Just like on land, there are law enforcement officers that patrol waterways. They look for people who may be operating a boat dangerously and will stop your boat if they feel you are a threat to yourself or others. The same rules do not necessarily apply to police officers that patrol water as the ones on land; they need not always have probable cause to stop your boat. For example, certain marine patrol officers may stop your vessel for a “safety inspection” to confirm you have the correct number of life vests and other emergency equipment. You may be stopped if your vessel is not properly registered or licensed.  Similarly, you may be stopped if you are not following properly posted navigation aids such as “no wake zone” signs or channel markers.

Law enforcement must also have probable cause to believe you are under the influence of an impairing substance before they can proceed with a BUI/DWI arrest. An interesting twist is this area of law is that unlike DWI cases, the law in North Carolina has not extended the existence of certain metabolites of both prescribed and illegal drugs. Sobriety testing, although again similar to DWI, is different for Boating While Impaired. If you refuse, you are NOT violating North Carolina's Implied Consent law and therefore will not be subject to enhanced penalties associated with your North Carolina driver's license and/or ability to drive within the State of North Carolina.

It is very important to note that although a BWI is not the same as an DWI in North Carolina, that may not be true in the other 49 United States. It is also very important to recognize that given the politics of impaired driving, it makes sense that some day North Carolina may indeed change the law regarding Boating While Impaired. People die on the water due to impaired operation of boats and jet skis. It is logical to assume that the North Carolina General Assembly may introduce a law subjecting boats and boaters to North Carolina General Statute §20-138.1.  Presently, boating while impaired and driving while impaired are, under the law, treated differently.  At the same time, there may be consequences to your employment, insurance, schooling, etc., for the conviction of Boating While Impaired.

Penalties for a BUI are the not technically the same as for a DWI—that doesn't mean there aren't expensive fines and the possibility of jail time in certain circumstances. Make sure you take this seriously and hire an experienced lawyer.


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I am so fortunate to have had Bill Powers on my case. Upon our first meeting, Bill insisted that through the emotions of anger, sadness, confusion, and betrayal that I remain resilient. He was available to answer questions with researched, logical, truthful answers throughout our two year stretch together... J.R.
Bill Powers and his firm were a true blessing. If anyone is contacting an attorney, it's more than likely not from a positive life experience. If there was a rating for "bedside manner" for lawyers he'd get a 10/10 for that as well. The entire staff were helpful... K.C.
Bill Powers’ staff has handled several traffic citations for me over the years, and they exceeded my expectations each and every time. Would highly recommend anyone faced with a traffic citation or court case contact his office and they will handle it from there. M.C.
Bill and his staff are flat out great. I (unfortunately) was a repeat customer after a string of tickets. These guys not only took care of the initial ticket for me, but went the extra mile and reduced my problems from 3 to just 1 (very minor one) on the same day I called back! I would recommend them to anyone. A.R.