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Sheyenne’s Law: Operating Boats While Under the Influence Has New Consequences

North Carolina has a very broad boating-under-the-influence law that includes not only motorboats and vessels, but also surfboards, water skis or “similar devices,” while under the influence of an impairing substance[1].  This means that a person operating a wakeboard or paddleboard under the influence of an intoxicating substance, like alcohol or an illegal drug, may be guilty under the statute.  The statute goes further to say that “no person shall operate any vessel while underway on the waters of this State…after having consumed sufficient alcohol that the person has, at any relevant time after the boating, an alcohol concentration of .08 or more.”[2]  The penalty for violating the statute is a Class 2 misdemeanor and punishable by at least a $250.00 fine.

But operating a boat or other vessel intoxicated can cost you a lot more than $250.00.  According to North Carolina statistics published by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, there were 166 boating accidents in the state of North Carolina in 2015, and of those 21 involved fatalities.  In 2014 those numbers were 130 boating accidents and 23 involving fatalities, and in 2013 there 143 accidents of which 17 involved fatalities.  The state of North Carolina only tracks boating accidents when loss of life occurs, a person loses consciousness or receives medical treatment, or is disable for more than 24 hours, the property damage to the vessel is in excess of $2,000.00 or a person disappears from the vessel under circumstances that indicate death or injury, so the actual number of boating accidents in the state of North Carolina are likely much higher.[3]

Recently, the state of North Carolina enacted a law referred to as “Sheyenne’s Law.”  The young lady whom the bill is named for was killed while knee-boarding on Lake Norman on July 4, 2015.[4]  The law signed in June 2016 and which went into effect December 2016, increases the penalty for impaired boating resulting in death or serious injury.  A person guilty of boating under the influence now may face from 10 months to 393 months in prison.[5]

So before you get behind the controls of your boat after a few beers this summer, think about the consequences.

[1] N.C.G.S. § 75A-10 (b)

[2] N.C.G.S. § 75A-10 (b1)

[3] North Carolina Report of Boating Accidents and Fatalities 2015;


[5] House Bill 958;


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