Rules of the Water – Boating While Impaired (BWI)

As is the case with motor vehicles, it is illegal to operate a motorboat with an alcohol concentration of .08 or more, or while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance (or its metabolite), or other illegal chemical. The law does not prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages aboard boats nor having an open bottle. The law applies only to motorboats “in operation” at the time of the offense, which does not include a motorboat that is anchored, beached, or securely fastened to a dock or other permanent mooring, or a motorboat that is being rowed or propelled by other than mechanical means.

Operators may be required to take impairment tests by an enforcement officer. BWI convictions and refusals are recorded on the violator’s driver’s license record, although first time offenders with no prior DWI are not subject to driver’s license revocation or license plate impoundment. Most of the BWI law is now found in the motor vehicle statutes, and first time violators (no prior DWIs of any kind) who are convicted are subject to:

  1. Up to a $1,000 fine plus surcharges,
  2. Possible jail time,
  3. Loss of motorboat operating privileges for 90 days during the boating season, after conviction and written notification by the DNR.

In addition to the above penalties, persons who refuse testing will also be subject to a separate and more severe criminal charge for refusal and loss of their motorboat operating privileges for one year, immediately upon refusal.

If certain “aggravating factors” are present, the BWI charge becomes a gross misdemeanor or a felony and results in heavier sanctions. If any of the following aggravating factors are involved, the offense automatically becomes at least a gross misdemeanor:

  1. An alcohol concentration of .20 or more,
  2. Prior DWI conviction(s) or refusal(s) of any kind in the past 10 years,
  3. There is a child less than 16 years of age on board.

Below are the penalties for gross misdemeanor BWI offenses:

  1. A fine of up to $3,000,
  2. A longer period of mandatory jail time,
  3. Participation in long-term monitoring programs,
  4. Chemical dependency assessments,
  5. Loss of driver’s license privileges,
  6. Plate impoundment of all motor vehicles owned by the offender, and
    Forfeiture of the boat involved in the incident.

In addition to the above sanctions, felony BWI offenders can be sentenced to:

  1. Up to seven years in jail,
  2. Up to $14,000 in fines, and
  3. Extended periods of license revocation

Further, if the operator had an alcohol concentration of 0.20 or more as measured at the time, or within two hours of the time, of the violation, the court may impose a penalty assessment of up to $1,000, in addition to any other penalties or charges authorized under law.

This information is provided for general informational purposes only. It is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for an attorney. An attorney-client relationship can only be formed with CLG through personal contact and after execution of a retainer agreement. If you wish to retain CLG, please contact us. We are happy to help. This information was accurate at the time it was posted. The laws of the State of Minnesota change regularly and often. Accordingly, CLG makes no guarantee about the accuracy of the information after the date of posting.

Give us a call today at (218) 739-4357 to speak with one of our attorneys and the Cadem Law Group. Proudly Serving: Ramsey County, Hennepin County, Otter Tail County, Fergus Falls, Wahpeton, Washington County, Pelican Rapids, Perham, Alexandria, Wadena, Staples, Morris, Little Falls, Becker, Clay, Wadena, Douglas, Grant, Wright, Dakota, Scott, Carver, Anoka, Pope, Becker and Detroit Lakes, MN.