NC Wildlife Resources Commission stresses boating safety ahead of Memorial Day Weekend

Published 9:32 am Monday, May 22, 2023

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The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) would like to remind drivers to stay safe on the road and water this Memorial Day weekend. 

They, in conjunction with North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement, local sheriff’s offices and police departments, will host an annual campaign called “On the Road, On the Water, Don’t Drink and Drive” to promote safe, responsible travel during Memorial Day weekend. 

NCWRC officers Haywood Brantley and Joseph Pepoli shared tips for safe boating over the Memorial Day weekend. 

One of the busiest times of the year for NCWRC is May through July, because that is when the most boating incidents occur, according to Officer Brantley. 

Across the state in 2022, there were 148 boating incidents and of those 20 were fatal. Sixteen of the 20 people who died were not wearing life vests though life vests were available to them. These statistics are the reasons why Officer Brantley and Officer Joseph Pepoli stress the importance of every boater wearing a flotation device in addition to having a throw cushion and fire extinguisher on board. Those are things officers will be looking for should they need to inspect a boat. 

It is equally important that life jackets and vests on a boat fit every passenger properly including children under the age of 13. “A lot of times, especially younger children, parents will put a life jacket on them that is not properly fitted. The goal of a life jacket is to keep you above water…Most good quality life jackets are going to flip you up and make sure that your airway is not obstructed by water,” Pepoli said.

Not wearing life jackets or having flotation devices can make an incident much worse, but they are not the cause of incidents. The leading cause is operator inattention, and during Memorial Day Weekend, alcohol can play a role in a driver being less attentive. 

Should the NCWRC receive a call about a driver operating a boat who may be impaired that call alone will prompt them to check out the boat and driver. They look for the same behavior an impaired driver of a car would exhibit – reckless driving, speeding or driving too slow, the driver’s physical capabilities, etc. Seated battery field sobriety tests are conducted on the NCWRC boat. In North Carolina, it is illegal to operate a vehicle or boat while noticeably impaired or with an alcohol concentration of 0.08. 

Last Memorial Day, NCWC had 22 patrol officers in District Two (Beaufort, Pitt, Greene, Lenoir, Jones, Craven, Pamlico and Carteret counties) who made contact with 215 vessels and 655 boaters were contacted on the water. (This includes the driver and how many passengers were on the boat.) There were eight total Boating Under the Influence charges in District Two, last Memorial Day. In Beaufort and Pitt Counties there were a combined 17 BUIs for the entire year, according to Brantley and Pepoli. 

Pepoli recalled issuing his first BWI arrest in Carteret County. The impaired person was driving a small vessel on the Tar River with their significant other. They intended to drive home after their day on the water. He felt good knowing he potentially prevented the driver from causing a fatal wreck on the road. “There’s no doubt in my mind they could have killed someone,” Pepoli said. 

“It may seem harmless operating a smaller jon boat on the Tar River, but they could have potentially ended somebody’s life on the roadway,” Pepoli said. “The fact that they were willing to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and drive home – that’s the potential life saving measures that we do all across the state. Every officer, we take DWIs, BWIs very seriously and we recognize the impacts it has on the general population.” 

As of May 2023, there are 356,685 registered boats in North Carolina, according to the NCWRC. Which means the number of NCWRC officers are trying to keep up with the number of boaters that could be out at any given time and even more so on holidays. 

With the NCWRC, there are three officers and one sergeant patrolling Beaufort, Pitt and Greene Counties. “There’s a lot more boaters than us and especially say if we do get an impaired operator off of the water, one of us would have to go to the magistrate’s office with them. It’s hard for us to be able to deal with – if we get a boating incident, if we have to deal with an impaired operator…”

The NCWRC offers free boater safety courses which are required for people born in or after 1988. Those interested can register at