It seems at least once a year we hear about someone being killed on South Carolina's waterways in a tragic boating accident. In 2020, there have been at least 3 so far: one in Lake Murray, one in Lake Wylie, and one in Lake Keowee – the 35th death in Lake Keowee in the last 25 years.
The number of deaths is not shocking when you consider how many lakes, rivers and beaches occupy the State's landscape. Couple that with the fact that the majority of our weather is prime for outdoor activities so we are a destination spot for vacationers and it equates to a lot of vessels cruising around.
In 2019 there were an estimated 549,000 registered vessels operating in South Carolina according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). SCDNR officers are responsible for enforcing the law on South Carolina's waters, though some Sheriffs' Offices also have boat patrols. That means anyone boating under the influence (BUI) can be stopped by a SCDNR officer just like any other law enforcement officer could stop you on the road for driving under the influence (DUI).
Why is boating while intoxicated so dangerous?
When you operate a boat under the influence, your attention is not focused on properly operating the boat. Drinking impairs judgment, and BUI can easily end in a deadly collision with another boat or object.You are more likely to ignore boating safety rules, such as maintaining the proper legal speed. Under South Carolina Code Section 50-21-870 (B)(6) no person is permitted to operate a boat on the waters of South Carolina above idle speed if they are within 50 feet of an occupied moored or an anchored vessel, wharf, dock, bulkhead, pier, or a person in the water.
Additionally, someone who is inebriated may not properly wear safety equipment such as life vests, and when your balance is compromised on an unsteady surface, it can cause an individual to fall overboard.
What is SCDNR's role in making arrests for BUI?
In South Carolina, alcohol use is the number one contributing factor to recreational boating deaths. So much so that SCDNR helped create the national standardized boating field sobriety tests, which are able to be performed while stopped on the water rather than back at a dock.
Officers have access to what they call the “BAT-Mobile,” which is a mobile lab for testing blood alcohol content (BAC) of boaters. This tool allows officers to test BUI arrestees within 30 minutes of being taken into custody, which helps them to better secure convictions. The ability to deploy this lab to any location shortens the time it takes to complete an arrest by at least 50 percent, which means officers are able to catch more intoxicated boaters.
What are the penalties for BUI?
If you are arrested for drunk driving a boat, there are legal, economic, and social consequences for a conviction. Under South Carolina Code Section 50-21-113 felony BUI is punishable by:
- A fine of $5,000 to $10,000 and 30 days to 15 years in prison for causing serious bodily injury.
- A fine of $10,000 to $25,000 and one (1) to 25 years in prison for causing the death of an individual.
Misdemeanor BUI which leads to property damage and/or a lesser bodily injury is punishable by:
- First offense: $200 in fines and/or imprisonment, from 48 hours to 30 days
- Second offense: $2,000 to $5,000 in fines and/or imprisonment, from 48 hours to 1 year
- Third offense: $3,500 to $6,000 in fines and/or imprisonment, from 60 days to 3 years
Aside from the potential of injuring or killing someone, or causing substantial property damage, if you are convicted of BUI you could also face:
- Loss of employment
- Inability to maintain professional licenses
- Suspension of your boating license
- Potential for a civil suit for wrongful death or personal injury
- Strained relationships with family or friends
- Rescinded scholarships or educational offers
- Loss of reputation
Incarceration is mandatory and probation is not permitted for any portion of your sentence. This means that a conviction becomes a question of how much time you will serve. Having an experienced BUI attorney can make all the difference between potentially receiving a:
- Reduction in charges
- Not guilty verdict at trial
- Serving a shorter sentence and getting your life back on track faster
Boating is a privilege that can be taken away along with your life and freedom if you are convicted of BUI. In addition to the fines and imprisonment, it convicted a person's boating privileges are suspended, and prohibited from operating a water device within South Carolina for 6 months for a first conviction, one year for a second conviction, and two years for a third conviction.
If you have been charged with boating under the influence in York, Lancaster, or Chester County, call the seasoned DUI criminal defense attorney, Tom Holland. Holland Law, LLC has offices conveniently located in Fort Mill on Gold Hill Road, or Rock Hill on Oakland Avenue. To schedule your free consultation, call 803-219-2630, or feel free to submit your information through the firm's contact page.