Hennepin County  Sheriff's Office Water Patrol boat

A Hennepin County Sheriff boat cruises near Lake Minnetonka’s Big Island on Saturday, June 8.

WAYZATA — The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and other local agencies are increasing patrols on Lake Minnetonka and other lakes in Minnesota over the holiday weekend in an effort to crackdown on drunk boaters.

This enhanced BWI enforcement campaign is part of Operation Dry Water, a national campaign that aims to deter boating while impaired by alcohol and drugs.

Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgement, balance, vision and reaction time, and being on a boat can even make someone feel drunker than their blood-alcohol concentration. Operation Dry Water’s website says the sun, wind, noise and vibrations and motions of the boat can “intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs and some medications.”

Alcohol also makes it more dangerous for passengers, with the website noting drunk passengers can slip, fall overboard and be involved in other dangerous accidents.

On Lake Minnetonka last year, there were zero BWIs reported on July 4, with 117 stops, and the weekend after the Fourth of July, there were three BWIs, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Edgar Linares told Lakeshore Weekly News.

“The word seems to be getting out to have a sober driver,” Linares said, noting patrol boats will be looking for gunnel riding, wake violations, navigation light violations and children who aren’t wearing life jackets.

Alcohol is involved in about 30 percent of fatal boat accidents in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ website says. The department noted in a June 28 news release that last year, alcohol played a role in half of the fatal boating accidents, which is higher than the five-year average.

Last year statewide, there were 18 boating fatalities and 66 non-fatal boating accidents. In 2017, there were 12 boating fatalities and 92 non-fatal boating accidents, the DNR’s website says.

BWI penalties

The legal alcohol limit for operating a boat is the same as operating a vehicle, 0.08 BAC. First time offenders (no prior DWIs of any kind) who are convicted of boating while impaired are subject to up to a $1,000 fine, plus surcharges, possible jail time and loss of motorboat operating privileges for 90 days during the boating season.

There are stricter penalties for people when aggravating factors are involved, such as a BAC higher than 0.16 or if a child is on the boat at the time, as well as if the boat operator refuses a test from law enforcement.

Minnesota’s BWI law does not prohibit drinking alcohol on a boat nor having an open bottle on a boat, and it only applies to motorboat operators that are not anchored, beached, moored, docked or are being rowed or propelled by nonmechanical means at the time of the offense.

Melissa Turtinen is the multimedia reporter for Lakeshore Weekly News. She's passionate about adding context to stories and informing people about what's going on in their community. She enjoys being outside, traveling and good beer.

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