Statistics show that Minnesotans own more boats per capita than people from anywhere else in the United States. There are more than 14 boats here for every 100 people, putting Minnesota well ahead of second-placed South Carolina, which has just over 11 for every 100 residents.
If you own or drive a boat, you should be aware that the law prohibits the excessive consumption of alcohol while operating the vessel. The rules against boating while intoxicated in Minnesota are similar to those that govern driving a car while intoxicated.
What Are the Rules Around Boating While Intoxicated in Minnesota?
As is the case in relation to DWI, the legal limit in terms of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for anyone driving a boat in Minnesota is 0.08%. So, if you operate a boat with more than 8 parts alcohol per 1000 parts blood in your body, you will generally be guilty of an offense. You may also be convicted of a BWI charge with a lower blood alcohol concentration if a prosecutor can prove that you were too intoxicated to drive your boat safely. Remember, different people digest alcohol at different speeds, and a number of drinks that’s safe for one person may not be advisable for someone else.
It is also an offense to be “under the influence of a controlled substance” other than alcohol while driving a boat, per Section 169A.20(2) of the Minnesota Statute. As well as illegal drugs, this provision refers to pharmaceuticals and household items (such as aerosol sprays and glue) that may cause intoxication.
Law enforcement officers have the authority to order your boat to stop and conduct an investigation if they have a reasonable suspicion you may be driving while intoxicated.
The Penalties You May Face for Boating While Intoxicated in Minnesota
The punishment you’ll receive for a BWI conviction in Minnesota will depend on the degree of the offense. As is the case with DWI charges, there are four degrees of BWI offense in the state.
A fourth-degree BWI is the least serious; first offenses typically receive this charge unless there are aggravating factors at play. The maximum penalties here are 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.
Aggravating factors, such as previous offenses or a blood alcohol concentration above 0.16%, increase the degree of BWI charges. A first-degree conviction carries potential sentences of up to $14,000 in fines and between three and seven years behind bars.
You will also lose your boating and driving motor vehicle privileges following a BWI conviction. The minimum length of a driver’s license revocation is 90 days, and with regard to boating privileges, these days must fall during the boating season (from May to October).
Are There Differences Between DWI and BWI Laws?
The same intoxication limits apply to DWI and BWI offenses in Minnesota, and the sentences for offenders are also similar. Two key differences between the two, however, are the “physical control” and “open container” rules.
If you’re in a car in Minnesota and you’re intoxicated, you may be guilty of a DWI offense even if you’re not driving. If you’re in “physical control” of the vehicle, that’s enough for a conviction. It’s also an offense to have an open container of alcohol in your possession while you’re driving a car in Minnesota, even if you’re not over the BAC limit. Neither of these restrictions apply to boating.
While it’s not against the law to have an open alcohol container on a boat in Minnesota, you should be aware that visible open containers may make the police more likely to conduct a BWI investigation on your boat.
Contacting a Lawyer About a Minnesota BWI Offense
If you’ve been charged with boating while intoxicated in Minnesota, you’ll need the help of an attorney to emerge with the most favorable possible result. Contact us today for a free initial consultation about your case.