Summer is officially over, and many will be storing their boats for the winter after enjoying a few months out on the water. However, some people may be packing up for the year for another reason: a charge of boating while intoxicated.
If you received a BWI over the Labor Day weekend, you may wonder what it means for your future – both on and off the water. While the laws surrounding BWIs in Minnesota aren’t complex, these types of charges bring up a lot of questions. Read on to find out what you need to know.
What Minnesota Law Says
In Minnesota, it is against the law to operate a watercraft or boat if you have a blood alcohol level of over 0.08 percent or more, which is reflective of the law in the state regarding motor vehicles on the roadway. Violating this law means you can be charged with boating while intoxicated, or BWI.
In many ways, a BWI is nearly identical to a DWI, driving while intoxicated, in the state. BWIs can result in jail time, fines, and even suspension of operating a boat. Additionally, the more BWIs you have on your record, the more serious the penalties you can potentially face.
Just as with a DWI in Minnesota, BWIs are an enhanceable offense. That means if aggravating factors are present, the charge can be elevated.
Aggravating factors of BWIs in the state include:
- A blood alcohol level of 0.16 percent or higher when operating the boat
- A refusal to take a chemical test or a prior conviction for a DWI or BWI
- Someone under the age of 16 on the boat during the offense
If one or more of these factors are present in your case, you can be charged with a gross misdemeanor – or even a felony. If you are charged with a gross misdemeanor, you may have to:
- Pay fines of as much as $3,000
- Endure jail time
- Lose your driver’s license
- Have vehicle license plates impounded
- Forfeit your watercraft or boat
- Be assessed for chemical dependency
- Participate in a long-term monitoring program
If charged with a felony BWI, you face up to seven years behind bars, fines of $14,000, and the revocation of your license.
What About Open Containers on Boats?
In Minnesota, one way that BWIs diverge from DWIs is that the open container law in the state does not apply to boats. You can have open bottles or cans of alcohol on a boat and it’s not illegal. You can even have an alcoholic beverage in your hand as you drive a boat. Both are perfectly legal as long as your blood alcohol content is within legal limits or you’re not operating the boat in a way that would lead someone to believe you are impaired.
If you’re facing a BWI after Labor Day, you need an experienced attorney to help. It’s vital to understand not only your rights, but also the depth of the charges against you and how they can impact your life off the water.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is an AV-Preeminent rated criminal and DWI defense attorney based in Minneapolis who is known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge and has been named a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law by the Minnesota Bar Association. Mr. Keyser is Lead Counsel rated, and he has received recognition for his criminal law work from Avvo, Expertise, Super Lawyers, The National Trial Lawyers, and more.