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Minnesota law enforcement authorities and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources teamed up to announce they are stepping up their drunk boating enforcement efforts. The increased effort, designed to get intoxicated boaters off of Minnesota’s rivers and lakes, includes increasing the number of patrols near boat launches and waterways.

Legal Consequences for Drunk Boating

Although many recreational boaters do not consider intoxicated boating to be as serious as drunk driving, boating while intoxicated (BWI) carries serious penalties. The punishment for a BWI violation includes the following:

  • Maximum of up to 90 days in jail
  • Maximum fine up to $1,000
  • Suspension of boating license for 90 (boating season) days

While these consequences are significant, there are some factors that might permit the prosecutor to seek enhanced penalties. The crime will increase from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor (or potentially a felony, depending on the circumstances) if any of the following factors pertain to a BWI case:

  • Engaging in drunk boating with a child passenger under the age of 16
  • Prior violation for DUI, BWI, or a chemical test refusal during the preceding ten-year period
  • Boating with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .16 or above

When facing BWI charges compounded by any of these aggravating factors, the boater will face more severe penalties, including a mandatory period of incarceration, fines up to $3,000, forfeiture of your vessel, long-term monitoring, plate impoundment, suspension of both driving and boating licenses, and chemical dependency assessments.

Drunk Boating Compared to Drunk Driving

Although the BWI laws in Minnesota are not particularly complex, they raise many questions from boaters. The primary distinction between BWI and DWI laws is that the “open container” and “physical control” aspects of the offenses do not apply.

When operating a boat, you do not commit an illegal act by having an open container of alcohol on the vessel. In fact, you do not commit a violation even if you have a drink in your hand or are sipping a drink while piloting the boat. However, you cannot have a BAC level that is over the legal limit or be operating your boat in a manner that indicates alcohol impairment.

The physical control element of DWI law also does not apply in cases of boating intoxication. Although you might be charged with DWI if you are standing near your vehicle or sleeping in the driver’s seat with the keys in your hand, you cannot be prosecuted for BWI if your boat is “…anchored, beached, moored, docked, or being rowed or propelled by non-mechanical means at the time of the offense.”

Although you should not be arrested for drunk boating when docked, we have seen situations where the officer claims that the boat was moved/operated while the pilot was intoxicated.

Want More Information or Need Legal Advice?

If you have been arrested for BWI in Minneapolis or the surrounding areas of Minnesota, we invite you to speak to a Minneapolis BWI defense attorney at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible.

The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can start protecting your rights. Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.

Kyle Dreger

Kyle Dreger is a skilled DUI/DWI and Criminal Defense lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. Kyle has received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is also a professionally trained basketball player.


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