Boating While Intoxicated- Is it a Crime in Minnesota?

Minnesota is known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes so it makes sense that there are a lot of boaters. In fact, there is about one boat for every six people in the state according to the Minnesota DNR. With that many boats there is a pretty good chance that some people will be drinking on their boats – but what do you need to know before you go boating?

Is Boating While Intoxicated a Crime in Minnesota?

The short answer is YES. The law is nearly the same as Minnesota’s Driving while Intoxicated law.

  • The alcohol concentration limit is 0.08
  • Refusing a chemical test when requested results in a severe penalty

Other aggravating factors such as:

  • Alcohol concentration over 0.2
  • Having a child under 16 in the boat
  • or having a prior DWI conviction in the past 10 years

can make the penalties for a BWI worse.

How are BWI Laws Different Than DWI

One of the most important ways they differ is that with a DUI an officer needs a reasonable suspicion in order to stop your vehicle while you’re driving. With a BWI, a law enforcement officer is allowed to board your boat simply for safety or security reasons. If an officer notices the smell of alcohol, or sees evidence of alcohol consumption the officer can investigate you for a BWI.

Another way that a BWI is different from a DWI is not related to the laws but more to the nature of how alcohol affects you when your out in the sun. Because alcohol dehydrates your body and when you’re spending the day in the hot Minnesota sun you are amplifying that dehydration. Being on the water may make the sun feel less intense than it is and having a cold alcoholic beverage can make you feel like you’re rehydrating when you’re actually potentially dehydrating even more. These twin effects can make you underestimate the effects of alcohol on your body while you’re on a boat.

What If I’m Drinking in My Canoe?

Since there are so many types of watercraft to go along with the 10,000 lakes are they all subject to BWI laws? The answer is NO. The Minnesota DNR says that the laws apply to:
operators of motorboats that are not:

  • anchored
  • beached
  • moored
  • docked
  • being rowed
  • being propelled by non-mechanical means

at the time of the offense.

Here are some helpful links to some useful resources related to boating and boating while intoxicated laws in Minnesota:
Boat U.S. Foundation – Minnesota Boating Law Basics
Minnesota DNR Boating Guide
Effects of Alcohol and Sun

Boating While Intoxicated – What not to do

Minnesota summers have lots of opportunities for people to be out on the lakes. If you get caught boating while intoxicated you might not want to react the way this man did: