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NC Wildlife cautions boaters to monitor drinking on the water

With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, officials say boaters should be cautious of how much alcohol they consume on the water. 

A person can be charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) if their blood alcohol content (BAC) is above .08 while operating a motor vehicle. Similarly, one can be charged with boating while intoxicated (BWI), if their BAC is above the same level while driving a boat. 

In North Carolina, a BWI is a class 2 misdemeanor. Generally, offenders face $250 to $1,000 in fines and a maximum of 60 days in jail. 

In June 2016, the state enacted Sheyenne’s law, which stiffens the consequences for certain BWI convictions. The bill is named after 17-year-old Sheyenne Marshall, who was killed on Lake Norman by an intoxicated boater in 2015. 

Under Sheyenne’s law, anyone who injures or kills someone on the water while driving intoxicated is subject a minimum of three years in prison. Repeat offenders could spend up to 33 years behind bars. 

Along with jail time, judges can hand out fines for a BWI involving injury or death.

According to N.C. Wildlife officer Branden Jones, officers on the water look for many signs of a BWI like reckless driving, low awareness, lack of life jackets and lack of validation decals on-board. 

“We look and see what indicators, possibly from our experience, of what may be an impaired operator,” Jones said. 

Jones says the number of BWIs issued throughout the year stays pretty consistent in Stanly County. During the boating season, he hands out two to four BWIs on a typical weekend. 

Besides not drinking, Jones feels there is a simple way to avoid a BWI on the water. 

“They just have to make the right decision and have a designated operator,” said Jones. “That’s the best thing.” 

To take further precautions, boaters should also bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and limit their trip to a reasonable time to avoid fatigue, he said.