BUI / Boating While Impaired in NC

by | Aug 26, 2019 | Blog Posts, NC Criminal Defense

Boating while impaired, often called “BUI” (boating under the influence), is illegal in North Carolina. It is punished as a Class 2 misdemeanor. BUI is governed by NCGS §  75A-10. Generally, the terms BUI, BWI, boating under the influence, boating while impaired, and boating while intoxicated are used interchangeably.

While BUI may seem similar to DWI in some ways, BUI has far less severe consequences than DWI. Like all of our blogs, this blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense lawyer.

Like DWI, a person can be convicted of BUI for

  • Operating a boat while under the influence of an impairing substance or
  • Operating a boat with a BAC of .08 or higher – “after having consumed sufficient alcohol that the person has, at any relevant time after the boating, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more”

As with DWI, the fact that a person is legally entitled to use alcohol or a drug is not a defense to this charge.

Water skis, surfboards, nonmotorized vessels, etc.

Not only can a person get a BUI for driving a boat while impaired, a person can also be charged with this offense for drunk skiing, drunk surfing, drunk canoeing, etc. According to North Carolina law, “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.”

Penalty for BUI

BUI is punished as a Class 2 misdemeanor, and comes with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a fine of at least $250. The penalty that an individual may face is dependent upon their prior record level. You can learn more about NC misdemeanor sentencing here.

In contrast, DWI is punished using a special sentencing structure.

License suspension

Unlike DWI, which comes with a one-year minimum license suspension in North Carolina, a BUI conviction will not result in a license suspension.


Unlike DWI, which can never be expunged, a misdemeanor BUI conviction can be expunged after a five year waiting period, as long as the person is otherwise eligible.

Serious injury or death caused by BUI – Sheyenne’s Law

If an impaired boater causes serious injury or death, the offense is a felony instead of a misdemeanor. In 2016, Sheyenne’s Law (House Bill 958) was passed. The law was named after a teenager who was killed on Lake Norman. This law increased the penalties for certain BUI offenses. Under Sheyenne’s Law:

  • Serious injury by impaired boating is a Class F felony
  • Aggravated serious injury by impaired boating is a Class E felony
  • Death by impaired boating is a Class D felony
  • Repeat death by impaired boating is a Class B2 felony


If you have been charged with BUI or another crime in North Carolina or South Carolina, contact us to speak with a criminal defense attorney.

DISCLAIMER – This forum is intended for general questions and comments about the particular law or topic. Comments are public and are not protected by confidentiality or attorney-client privilege; therefore, they can be used against you in court. Please refrain from revealing your identify or specifics about any actual criminal case. No attorney-client relationship is created in this forum.

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