Did Your Memorial Day Weekend Lead to a BWI?

Being out on a boat the first weekend of summer is a time to cherish. You can have fun with friends and family as the whole of summer stretches out before you. One complication you may not have counted on: BWI charges.

Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) is a very serious offense. People may not think it’s as serious as driving a car under the influence of drugs – especially because the name sounds so silly – but the state of Minnesota does not agree.

Here is what you need to know about BWIs in Minnesota and what you can expect if you are found guilty of one from your Memorial Day weekend fun.

What is a BWI in Minnesota?

In the state of Minnesota, it is not legal to operate a personal watercraft or boat when under the influence of alcohol. Specifically, you cannot have a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.08 percent while operating a boat or other watercraft.

If you are found to be under the influence, then you can be charged with Boating While Intoxicated.

The Penalties for a BWI in Minnesota

The consequences for a BWI closely mirror those of a DWI. The first time you are found guilty of boating while intoxicated, you face a misdemeanor and associated penalties of up to three months in jail, fines of as much as $1,000, and the inability to operate a boat for three months during the boating season.

Aggravating Factors for a BWI in Minnesota

Just like DWIs in Minnesota, BWIs can result in enhancements of the penalties when aggravating factors present in the case. If these aggravating factors are present, then the charges against you can be elevated from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor – or even a felony in certain circumstances.

Aggravating factors for boating while intoxicated include:

  • A prior DWI or BWI conviction
  • Refusal to take a chemical test in the decade leading up to the current charge
  • Operating a boat at twice the legal blood alcohol limit of .16 percent
  • Committing a BWI offense with someone in the boat under the age of 16

If your BWI is elevated to a gross misdemeanor due to one of these aggravating factors, then that can result in penalties of:

  • A longer jail sentence
  • Fines of as much as $3,000
  • Loss of driving privileges
  • Assessments for chemical dependency
  • Participating in monitoring programs
  • Impoundment of your motor vehicles and license plate
  • Forfeiture of the vessel involved in the BWI

For a felony BWI, you are facing even stiffer penalties still. This can include as long as seven years in prison, fines of as much as $14,000, and revocation of your driver’s license.

Duluth BWI Defense Attorney

Many people assume that drinking while driving a boat is simply less dangerous than driving a car, but the argument can be made that it’s even more dangerous. On roads, you have speed limits and streetlights, as well as signs and stoplights to help you navigate. None of that is true on the water.

Conditions on the water can quickly change to create very dangerous situations, made even riskier by drunk boat drivers. If you are found guilty of a BWI offense, then you risk losing your license if there are aggravating factors involved – which goes to show just how serious the state of Minnesota is about drinking and boating.


About the Author:

A former Assistant Public Defender for the Sixth Judicial District in Duluth and former staff attorney for the Indian Legal Assistance Program, Brent R. Olson is an experienced trial lawyer who has appeared in every Courthouse in the Sixth Judicial District and taken over three dozen cases to verdict. At LaCourse, Poole & Envall, Mr. Envall focuses on family law, workers’ compensation, and criminal defense. He has a strong belief in restorative justice and helped to develop the Domestic Violence Restorative Circles program.