As the Minnesota state motto accurately states, we are a land of 10,000 lakes. As the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website states, “With nearly 900,000 registered boats, Minnesota is number one in boats per capita in the US. In fact, there is about one boat for every six people in the state.” And, with that many lakes and boats around, we Minnesotans sometimes like to be out in our boats on those lakes — especially when the forecast predicts a beautiful, sunny, 80-degree Fourth of July weekend.
The Fourth of July holds many different traditions for Minnesotans. If boating and drinking some beer or wine or cocktails with friends and family are part of your weekend plans, here are a few things you maybe don’t know — and should — about Minnesota BWI law, before you head off onto “the lake”.
The BoatU.S. Foundation maintains a really user-friendly website, with a page entitled “Minnesota Boating Law Basics”, on which they have information on licensing requirements, noise laws, PFD (personal flotation devices) laws, careless/reckless operation, speed limits, accident reporting, and BWI, as well as links to the Minnesota Department of Natural resources (DNR) website.
The short answer to the question, is BWI a crime in Minnesota, is YES. The law is almost identical to Minnesota’s Driving While Intoxicated law. The alcohol concentration limit is still 0.08, refusing a chemical test when requested by an on-water enforcement officer still results in a severe penalty, and aggravating factors, such as an alcohol concentration of over 0.2, having a child under 16 in the boat, or having a prior DWI conviction in the last 10 years, can enhance a current BWI charge.
BWI laws differ from DUI laws in a number of ways. One of the important ways in which they differ is that with a DUI, an officer needs to have a reasonably articulable suspicion to order to stop your car or truck while you’re driving. But with BWI, a law enforcement officer is sometimes allowed to board your boat simply for safety or security reasons. If an officer notices the smell of alcohol, or sees evidence of alcohol consumption by your or your party while aboard, the officer can investigate you for BWI.
Another important factor that makes BWI different from DUI is the effect the sun has on a person’s body, especially when alcohol is involved. When you’ve been drinking alcohol at a bar, and you go out to your car, your body is processing that alcohol in a way to which you are probably accustomed. However, alcohol dehydrates your body, and spending a day in the intense Minnesota summer sun also dehydrates your body. Being on the water makes the sun feel less intense than it is, and drinking a cold alcoholic beverage makes you feel like you’re rehydrating your body, even though you’re not. Thus, is it easy to underestimate the effects the alcohol is having on your body while you’re out on the boat. This means you can end up being surprised by how high your alcohol concentration is after a day of drinking out in the sun on the boat.
But there are a LOT of different types of water crafts out on the lakes. Are all of them subject to BWI laws? The answer is no. The Minnesota DNR states: “The BWI laws apply to operators of motorboats that are not anchored, beached, moored, docked, or being rowed or propelled by non-mechanical means at the time of the offense.”
Want more information? Here’s the link to the BoatingU.S. Foundation webpage: http://www.boatus.org/onlinecourse/statelaws/Minnesota.html. Also, the Minnesota DNR publishes an on-line booklet, called the Boating Guide, every year. The 2009 version can be found as a PDF at: http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/rlp/regulations/boatwater/boatingguide.pdf. Finally, here is a link to an article that discusses the mixed effects of alcohol and sun exposure: http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/00000006DEC1.htm.
Have a great Fourth of July!