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Drinking and boating in Minnesota - is it legal?

People often ask me, “Is it legal to drink while out in the boat?”

Sometimes one may think that nobody can have an alcoholic beverage while in the boat, and others will think that the operator cannot drink while operating the watercraft.

The truth is, while it is legal to consume alcoholic beverages and/or have open bottle while in a boat (provided the people are over the legal drinking age of 21), the operator cannot operate a motorboat while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance or other illegal chemical.

The alcohol concentration for impaired operation is .08 and higher. This law applies to operators of motorboats that are not anchored, beached, moored, docked or being rowed or propelled by non-mechanical means at the time of offense.

Operators who are impaired may be required to take tests by an enforcement officer. There is a penalty for refusal.

Boating while intoxicated (BWI) convictions and refusals are recorded on the violator’s driver’s license record. This comes as a surprise to many people. First-time violators (no prior DWIs of any kind) who are convicted are subject to:

1. Up to $1,000 fine plus surcharges.

2. Possible jail time.

3. Loss of motorboat operating privileges for 90 days during the boating season after conviction and written notification by the DNR.

If any of the following aggravating factors are involved, the offense automatically becomes a gross misdemeanor (a fourth conviction in 10 years results in a felony penalty).

• Alcohol concentration of .20 or more.

• Prior DWI convictions or refusals in the past 10 years.

• There is a child younger than 16 on board.

(This column is published on behalf of the Whitefish Chain Yacht Club.)