Assuming the weather complies, thousands of Minnesotans will be hauling their Alumacraft or pontoon boat to their favorite lake over Memorial Day weekend. Jet skis, water-skiers, and fishermen will soon occupy the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and the increased presence on the lakes means everyone should take extra precautions to remain safe this holiday weekend.
As with any holiday weekend, the extra day off means a greater likelihood that partygoers will dabble into the wine and spirits. Tossing back a Corona while you’re in search of that monster bass can make for a great afternoon, but always make sure your ship’s captain can keep it between the navigational beacons. A charge for Boating While Intoxicated can sink your party barge real quick, so follow the tips below to ensure you and your friends have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day Weekend.
1) Drink Responsibly – The easiest way to stay safe this weekend is to keep your alcohol consumption in check. If you plan on drinking above and beyond the .08 level for legally operating a vehicle, make sure you have a designated boat captain. If your group is going to take turns skiing or tubing behind the boat, it’s a good idea to make sure you have at least two sober people who can drive the boat in case the captain wants to take his or her turn behind the boat. Not only will the captain appreciate that he also has a sober driver, but it will keep other boaters on the lake safe.
2) Have Proper Safety Equipment – Make sure you have enough lifejackets on board to support all of your passengers before you set sail. In the unlikely event of an emergency, lifejackets will ensure everyone will stay above the water until help arrives. Most captains are seasoned enough to store enough lifejackets on board, but another thing to check is if your navigational lights are functioning properly. This is especially important if you’re going for a night cruise, as your signal lights are the best way to make your presence known to other drivers.
3) Read the Regulations – For many people, the holiday weekend may be the first time they are getting up to their lake house this year. It’s always a good idea to read up on the updated boating regulations to make sure you’re in compliance with wake laws. The two easiest ways to draw the attention of the authorities on the lake is by making a wake during a “no wake period”, or by circling the lake in the wrong direction. Brush up on the 2013 regulations so you don’t run into any problems.
4) Have a Spotter – While it might be tempting to take the boat out before a lot of other boaters hit the lake, always make sure you have at least three people in your party if you want to ski or tube. One person will be behind the boat, which leaves the captain and a spotter in the boat. The spotter’s job is to keep an eye on the skier in case they fall. Boating without a spotter is dangerous for everyone involved. The skier could get left far behind if the captain doesn’t realize he’s dropped his skier, and other boaters are in danger if the captain is constantly looking behind him to make sure the skier is still up.
The Sobering Facts of a BWI
While a BWI charge may seem less serious than a DUI charge, both convictions can carry heavy penalties. Just like on the road, the legal limit for operating a boat is .08 percent, so know your limits when on the lake. A first time BWI charge is punishable by:
- Up to 90 days in jail;
- Fines up to $1,000;
- Suspension from operating a boat for 90 boating season days.
In addition, a misdemeanor BWI charge can be upgraded to a gross misdemeanor or a felony depending on “aggravating circumstances”. Some of those circumstances include:
- Operating with a BAC above .16 percent
- A prior conviction for DUI/BWI or test refusal within the last 10 years
- Operating the boat with a passenger under the age of 16 onboard.
Not only will you face longer jail time and fines if you’re BWI is increased to a gross misdemeanor or felony, but you could also lose your driver’s license or forfeit your boat.