Going out to the local lake and spending an afternoon on the pontoon is one of the classic activities of a Minnesotan summer. While you are out on a hot sunny day, you, your friends and your family may enjoy a few alcoholic beverages. While the consequences of boating while intoxicated can be as severe as drunk driving, there are a few differences regarding the two kinds of charges.

Open containers and boats

Unlike laws regarding operation of cars, state law does not prohibit open containers on a motorized boat. This means that the operator and the rest of the guests on the boat can enjoy alcoholic drinks while boating. You as the operator, can even have a drink in hand while operating the vehicle, so long as you do not reach or exceed the BAC limit (.08%) while operating the boat.

What counts as a BWI

In Minnesota, law officials can charge you with a DWI even if you are not physically driving. Sitting at the driver’s seat with keys in your hand while intoxicated can be grounds enough for a DWI. However, state law stipulates that you can be at the helm of the boat while over the limit and not receive a BWI, so long as you are not operating your boat by motor.

This means that if you anchor, moor, or float your boat while intoxicated, you are not at risk of a BWI. This also means that you cannot receive a BWI for operating a canoe, kayak or any other kind of non-motorized boat. You can only receive a BWI citation for physically operating a motorized boat while being impaired to the point of losing your usual clearness of intellect or while having a BAC of .08% or greater.

When can you be stopped while boating?

Finally, one of the biggest differences between BWI and DWI cases are the standards regarding stopping and/or boarding your vehicle. While you are driving on the roads, an officer may only pull you over with probable cause, such as reckless driving or outdated tags. On a boat, however, law enforcement officers can board for security or safety reasons that are far looser. Once they have boarded your boat, empty bottles may be enough for them to start an investigation for a BWI.

Consequences of a BWI

While there are differences regarding how BWI and DWI cases are judged, the consequences for a BWI can be just as harsh. For example, if you get a BWI charge and have three or more previous BWI and/or DWI convictions within the last ten years, you may receive a first-degree BWI, which is considered a felony. The consequences of a first-degree BWI are three to seven years in prison and up to $14,000 in fines.

Do not allow a standard day on the lake turn into an incident that has lasting consequences on your life by not taking a BWI charge seriously.