A few weeks into the traditional boating season, many Minnesotans are already busy gearing up and preparing their watercrafts for trips to the water. As always, the authorities are cautioning everyone to observe safe boating practices to avoid accidents and serious injuries on the lakes.
Drinking on-board watercrafts is of course, a major violation of State laws. In the 2009 blog post “What is Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) and is it different from DUI?”, we shared Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) facts and how it differs from the common Minnesota DWI. Today we’ll expand on that discussion and hopefully clear up some remaining misconceptions about Minnesota BWI.
What’s Legal and What’s Not
Riding in a boat and consuming alcoholic beverages are fine so long as you’re not the one operating the boat. The Minnesota DNR specifically states in its 2011 Boating Guide that
“Operating a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance (or its metabolite), or other illegal chemical is unlawful.”
Note that the blood alcohol content or BAC level for a BWI is still at 0.8, similar to the legal limit on the roads. Also, the law recognizes the BWI offense whether or not you actually figured in an accident.
Key Differences of BWI and DWI
Whereas a DWI apprehension requires that an officer must have reasonable suspicion for stopping your vehicle, a DNR agent can legally board your boat or watercraft simply to ensure the safety and security of every passenger, regardless of any suspicion of wrongdoing.
In fact, the DNR extensively patrols the waterways and looks for signs of possible boating violations, including BWI. For an officer, signs such as turned off navigation lights, erratic steering or boisterous activity on boats can be grounds for a stop.
BWI Arrests and Penalties
First time violators, with no DWIs of any kind on their record, will be facing up to $1,000, possible jail time and the loss of motorboat operating privileges for 90 boating season days.
Aggravating factors such as a BAC of .20 or higher, previous DWI or DWI test refusal convictions in the past 10 years , and the presence of a child below 16 years of age on board will elevate the charge to a gross misdemeanor. These kinds of offenses are subject to mandatory minimum jail times, higher fines, loss of motorboat driver’s licenses and plates, and even forfeiture of the watercraft and trailer operated during the arrest.
Refusing to undergo testing for alcohol levels also leads to a separate offense which can cause the loss of operating privileges for one year, and other severe penalties.
Boating Safety and Legal Remedies
Truth is, operating a motorboat while drunk exponentially increases the risks of fatal accidents many times over. Some statistics suggest that a third of total boating fatalities in Minnesota each year can be directly attributed to alcohol consumption.
You should also be aware of boater’s hypnosis, a condition resulting from the combined effects of the sun, the glare of the water, engine noise and vibration and the water’s motion which leads to fatigue. Add alcohol to the mix and you have a perfect storm of possibly lethal accidents.
Drinking and operating a boat should and must be avoided for everyone’s safety, but if you’re already facing a BWI charge, it’s important to get help from an experienced Minnesota BWI and DWI attorney who knows how to navigate the trickier aspects of BWI laws and obtain the best possible outcome for your case. With proper examination of evidence and an aggressive defense, you might have a chance to avoid severe and costly penalties that may damage your reputation and affect all other aspects of your life.
Charged with BWI in Minnesota? Call the Kans Law Firm, LLC at (888) 972-6060 for a free case review.