Written by attorney Max A. Keller

BWI, SWI, and AWI Defense in Minnesota (Boating, Snowmobiling and ATV-ing While intoxicated)

You may be surprised to know that DUI and DWI laws do not apply only to motor vehicles, nor to those on the marked public roads. You can also be arrested and convicted for Boating While Intoxicated (BWI), Snowmobiling While Intoxicated (SWI) and ATV-ing while Intoxicated (AWI). The reason? Just because you are not behind the wheel of a car, the Legislature believes you are still endangering the lives of others as well as your own life by mixing drinking and "driving" or boating, etc. If you have been arrested for BWI, SWI or AWI, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.


Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, many of which comes with excellent opportunities to tan, boat and enjoy a few beers at the same time. Furthermore, during those cold winter months, there is nothing better than taking a ride up the snow capped mountain with a bottle of rum to keep you warm. However, the cold harsh reality is – if you are caught with a blood alcohol content level of .08 or higher, then you could be convicted with a drinking while intoxicated offense.

It may not seem like a big deal if you are caught with a couple beers in your boat, but it actually is. For one, you could be looking at a license revocation and possible driver’s education courses. Even if this is your first offense, you could still be charged with a misdemeanor offense including up to 90 days in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. You will also most likely lose your license for 90 days (in season). What this means is that if you are arrested for boating while intoxicated in August, you will not be able to operate your boat again for 90 days starting the next summer season.

Keep in mind that BWI, AWI and SWI arrests can happen to anyone, including those under the age of 21. However, those under the legal drinking limit operate on the “Not a Drop Law" which means if you are under the legal drinking age and found with any alcohol in your system (or your recreational vehicle), then you could be facing serious consequences.

BWI Aggravating Factors

Boating and snowmobiling while intoxicated also come with similar aggravating factors as a DWI arrest. If you are found with one or more aggravating factors, you could be looking at a third, second or first degree BWI offense.

  • Operating a boat/ATV/snowmobile with a blood alcohol concentration of .20 or more,
  • A prior conviction for DWI or test refusal in the 10 years leading up to, or
  • A passenger under age 16 on the boat/ATV/snowmobile at the time of the offense.

Many families will combine their love of the water with a cocktail or two. However, if you are caught enjoying a drink while your children are waterskiing behind the boat, then you are looking at a gross misdemeanor conviction.

If you are caught with a blood concentration level of .08 or higher anywhere in Minnesota while operating any type of recreational vehicle, from a boat to a bus, from a golf cart to a snowmobile, then you could be convicted under the DWI laws. It does not matter if you are on the road, off the road, on a lake, river, ice, snow or anywhere else.

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