Minnesota agencies target intoxicated boating

FAIRMONT — Summer, especially the Fourth of July weekend, is widely enjoyed and celebrated with a variety of activities, including boating.

Whether fishing, water skiing or lazily floating about, time on the water is often paired with alcoholic beverages.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, State Patrol, county sheriff’s offices and other public safety agencies are increasing patrols for intoxicated boaters today through Sunday as part of Operation Dry Water, a national campaign aimed at deterring boating under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

What some younger/newer boaters may not be aware of is that Minnesota laws concerning drinking are not limited by shorelines. Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart discussed what some of those laws entail, most of which are familiar to drivers.

“In a nutshell, everything that pertains to a car driving down the road is the same for watercraft,” he said. “The legal limit of .08 is the same for operating a boat. It’s against the law to operate a motor vehicle or a boat either impaired with alcohol or a controlled substance.”

According to information from the DNR, in 2018, alcohol was a factor in half of the deadly boating accidents in Minnesota. That’s higher than the five-year average.

“Contributing factors in a [boating while impaired] are the same as in a car,” Markquart said. “So if you’re over a .16, which is double the limit, then that’s an aggravating factor so that can raise it from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. Any other DWIs or boating DWIs can add up so if you have a DWI in a car, that counts as a factor in your boat so if you add them together you have two.

“Another aggravating factor is kids under 16 in the boat. So you have to be careful about having your family with you.”

Markquart said this time of year usually involves an increase in alcohol-related incidents, primarily due to newer boaters and more traffic on the water. He also noted some of the differences between drinking and driving a motor vehicle as opposed to a boat.

“In a boat, you can have open containers,” he said. “So the passengers, or the operator, can have an alcoholic beverage while they’re underway. It’s just that the operator cannot be over the legal limit.

“In a car, if a passenger has an open beverage, the driver can get an alcohol violation, but in a boat it’s allowed.

“Also, if you get a BWI, refusing to do a test is a higher penalty than if you’re in a car. So if it’s your first time with a BWI, you would lose your license and driving privileges for 90 days. But if you refuse, you lose privileges for one year.

As far as prevention efforts, Markquart notes that patrol boats will continue to be out on Martin County lakes.

“So far it’s been a pretty positive thing,” he said. “We’re out making contacts and it’s been good to have a couple of people in the boat all the time.”

As far as other boating and water recreation activities, Markquart shared information that the Sheriff’s Office would like people to be aware of:

o Operation of a personal watercraft is allowed from 9:30 a.m. to one hour before sunset.

o Personal watercraft may not weave through congested watercraft traffic, or jump the wake of another watercraft within 150 feet.

o For tubing, speeds must be kept low, tubers should wear a life jacket and tubes should be kept at least 20 feet behind the boat.

o Tubing accidents are most often caused by the tube hitting a wake and flipping, tubes swinging out as a boat U-turns, and injuries caused by the tow line when two tubes being towed by the same boat collide with each other.

“My biggest complaint that I get is people getting too close to shore,” Markquart said. “They need to be that 150 feet away. My next one is people chasing boats to jump their wakes.

“We want everyone to have a great holiday weekend,” he concluded. “We want it to be a safe one and have people just be respectful of their neighbors, including with fireworks.”