Boating is a popular form of recreation in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. However, once the temperature rises and more people get out on the water, law enforcement officials begin paying attention to a dangerous offense that is less commonly acknowledged than its roadway equivalent: boating while intoxicated (BWI).

The consequences of a BWI aren’t much different from those of an intoxicated driving offense. In fact, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is the same as that of a DWI – .08% or more will result in a possible conviction.

Boating has different open container laws than driving, and a person operating a boat is allowed to drink. However, it’s worth noting that if the boat is deemed by law enforcement as being operated recklessly, a blood alcohol limit of .04 can still result in an arrest.

The four degrees of penalties

In Minnesota, the standards for BWI consequences are measured in four different levels. It’s important to note that a prior DWI may be included as a pre-existing offense when determining which degree of penalty applies:

  1. First degree – this applies if there are three or more previous BWI or DWI convictions on your record in the past 10 years, or another first degree conviction. This is considered a felony and carries the most severe consequences, with up to $14,000 in fines and multiple years in prison possible.
  2. Second degree – in cases where there are two or more prior convictions in the past 10 years, or a previous refusal of chemical testing plus another conviction. While this level is a gross misdemeanor, it can still carry a hefty fine and jail time.
  3. Third degree – one prior conviction can result in a third-degree BWI conviction. The penalties are only slightly different from those of a second degree conviction.
  4. Fourth degree – this is for first-time offenders and may result in fines and possible jail time.

Regardless of which degree of BWI offense you have been accused of, you’ll lose your boating privileges for at least 90 days within the official boating season from May to October—meaning the suspension time may carry over into the next season.

Talk to an attorney

The first thing you should do if you receive a BWI charge is contact an attorney. You’ll need expert legal counsel to help you determine the best way to proceed with your case and to help defend your rights. A BWI can be a serious charge, but the circumstances surrounding it should be thoroughly examined.