In this article...

Watch Our Video
Heather Jones

Wisconsin has so many beautiful lakes and rivers that getting out on a boat to enjoy them is expected. Many like to pair a trip out on the water with adult beverages. Furthermore, there are often bars offering live music, food, and drinks on the shores where people like to stop and imbibe, returning to their boats after having a few cocktails and not realizing they are no longer capable of safely operating the boat. Many people often wonder if there are OWI’s for boating and the short answer here is, yes, you can be charged and convicted with an OWI while boating in Wisconsin. If you are being charged with a Wisconsin OWI while boating, you should consult with an experienced Wisconsin OWI attorney to help you. Read on to learn more about the laws about boating OWI in Wisconsin and the penalties for breaking them.  



Can I get an OWI While Driving a Boat?


Yes, you can be charged with and convicted of OWI while operating a boat in Wisconsin. Wisconsin uses the term “operating while intoxicated,” which will cover boats and motor vehicles. The blood alcohol percentage required for a conviction of OWI is .08%, which is easy to reach after a few drinks in the hot summer sun. So not only can you get an OWI while driving a boat, but it also applies to ATVs and snowmobiles. The best bet is, as always, either don’t drink or have a designated driver who agrees to stay completely sober while you enjoy your outdoor activities.  For a more general article on DUI/OWI laws in Wisconsin read our article, Understanding OWI/DUI Laws in Wisconsin.  

boat on a lake in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Boating Laws


The Wisconsin statute concerning boating while intoxicated is Wis. Stat. §30.681. The law applies not only to regular motorboats but also to jet skis. The law for commercial boats is more rigid, with a blood alcohol level of .04%. The statute forbids a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher for private boats and other watercraft. The statute also prohibits the presence of any detectable amount of a controlled substance in their blood. A controlled substance can be any street drug, marijuana, or prescription medication. The idea here is that if you are stopped by a police boat (and they ARE patrolling) and find any controlled substance in your blood, you could be convicted of a boating OWI.  


While an officer cannot have you step out of your boat and walk around as they would with a traffic stop, they can still conduct a field sobriety test while you sit in your boat. The officer can conduct hand-eye coordination tests and gaze tests like they do in a regular traffic stop on the road. If the office can perform those tests and create reasonable suspicion, the officer can have you taken if for a blood draw, which will be a determining factor in an OWI conviction.  


You can open containers on your boat, and if passengers have been drinking, there are no penalties (as long as they don’t interfere with the stop or do anything dangerous). It is the operation of the boat while under the influence that you can be convicted. Additionally, in Wisconsin, if there are underage drinkers on the boat, it is legal as long as their parents are present and give them the alcohol.  


Wisconsin Refusal Law


In Wisconsin, you can refuse to take the field sobriety tests, but that can mean the arresting officers can get a warrant and take you to the nearest hospital or clinic where they will require you to submit to a blood draw, in which case you now have a refusal and a possible OWI conviction to deal with. This is also called evidentiary chemical testing, so if alcohol or any other substance is in your system, it will show on the blood test.  


If you make a refusal in Wisconsin and there was no chemical testing performed, you will receive a notice of an intent to revoke, which is a notice of the intent to revoke your driver’s license, and a hearing date. While you might not be convicted of an OWI, you will still have your driver’s license revoked. So, if you refuse chemical evidentiary testing while boating you could still face fees and penalties. Wisconsin could also order the installation of a breathalyzer on your car, requiring you to blow zero before operating the vehicle.  


Wisconsin Implied Consent Law


In Wisconsin, if you are driving a motor vehicle on a public roadway, you are given implied consent to submit to a breathalyzer test. Wisconsin usually offers two breathalyzer tests. The first test, at the scene where you are stopped, is voluntary. If you refuse the breathalyzer at the stop, the police will take you to either the police station for a mandatory test or a hospital for a blood draw. Those second tests are not voluntary, and you can incur penalties if you refuse to take the second test. The implied consent law also applies to operating a boat on Wisconsin’s waterways, so if you decide to pilot a boat in Wisconsin, the State has your implied consent for chemical evidentiary testing.  


Wisconsin OWI Penalties


You can face going to jail and having your boat impounded. The fines and jail time depend on whether or not it is your first offense.  

Wisconsin OWI Penalties


The bottom line is that you are subject to serious consequences if caught boating or operating a watercraft while drunk. The best possible approach is to use a designated driver if you plan on drinking while enjoying your day out on the water. If you are stopped on suspicion of operating while intoxicated and receive a summons, you should contact an OWI attorney as soon as possible to take care of your possible defenses. You do have rights even though you were stopped, and you need someone on your side to explain the process and make sure your rights are protected. If you have been stopped for operating a watercraft while intoxicated then please feel free to reach out to O’Flaherty Law, we would be happy to help you.  

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

FREE DUI, Criminal & Traffic DefenseE-Book

Get my FREE E-Book

Similar Articles

Learn about Law