BWIs: Staying Safe on the Water

woman and man drinking on a boat alcohol bwi

Can You Get a DWI While Boating in Wisconsin?

Known as boating while impaired (BWI), operating a motorboat while intoxicated is just as dangerous as operating a car while intoxicated. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe on the water.

How Are Boating DWIs Charged?

In Wisconsin, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.08 — whether you’re operating a car or boat. If your BAC is at or above 0.08 at the time you’re pulled over, you can be arrested and charged with boating while intoxicated. A BWI will not affect your driver’s license, but a second offense will result in jail time:

  • First offense: $150 to $300 in fines.
  • Second offense (two prior within the past five years): five days to six months in jail and $300 to $1,000 in fines.
  • Third offense (two prior within the past five years): 30 days to one year in jail and $600 to $2,000 in fines.
  • BWI involving injury: 30 days to one year in jail and $300 to $2,000 in fines.
  • Anyone convicted must complete a state-approved boating safety program.
  • A judge may also order the completion of a substance abuse program.

Can I Lose My Boating Privileges?

You could be prohibited from using your boat if arrested with a BWI. If you are deemed to have contributed to another person’s injury, you may face heightened penalties — potentially including prison time.

Commercial Boating

As with driving a commercial truck or car, the BAC limit is lower for commercial boating. If you’re found operating a commercial motorboat while intoxicated, you can be charged with a BWI if your BAC level is 0.04 or higher.

Inboard/Outboard vs. Trolling Motors

Some boaters across the state have come to believe that they can’t receive a DWI while operating a boat with a trolling motor — the difference being between either the power of the motor or what powers the motor (gas or battery). According to Wisconsin law, if it has a motor, you can be prosecuted for a DWI — or a BWI more specifically in this case.

However, boaters operating without motors (using oars), may not be charged with a BWI, but can still be charged with endangering others or exhibiting public intoxication.

Boating Consent Laws

Despite being out on the water, field sobriety tests are still conducted in Wisconsin. This means that every individual that operates a motorboat automatically consents to give law enforcement the authority to conduct a breath, blood, or urine test if they are suspected of driving drunk.

Fighting Your BWI Charge

If you’ve been charged with a BWI in Wisconsin, it’s important to seek help from an experienced BWI attorney as soon as possible. If you've been charged, you need the skilled and aggressive defense our St. Paul attorneys at Rogosheske, Rogosheske & Atkins, PLLC can provide. Contact us today to learn more: (651) 413-9004

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