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Boating Under the Influence in Wisconsin: The facts

In late summer of 2017, a 53-year-old man from suburban Milwaukee was boating on Lake Nagawicka. Without slowing down, he steered his white deck boat into the side of a pontoon. A 61-year-old woman was ejected from the pontoon, “and died from drowning and blunt force trauma.”

The driver of the white deck boat, a successful man with no criminal record, later admitted to police that he’d been “super drunk” at the time of the accident. He was charged with “homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle,” and is currently serving six years in prison.

It’s incredibly tragic, but these things happen. A lot. In 2017 alone, there were 25 boating fatalities in the state of Wisconsin. Alcohol was a known factor in almost half of those accidents.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division, alcohol plays the biggest role in boating fatalities nationwide.

First, some safety tips

Boater safety is incredibly important. The U.S. Coast Guard reported 599 boating-related fatalities in 2017. By observing the correct safety precautions, many of those fatalities could have been avoided. Here are some valuable tips to keep you and your loved ones safe on Wisconsin waters:

  • Drive sober:In the state of Wisconsin, it might be legal for passengers on a boat to have open alcohol containers. But it is illegal for the driver to drink.
  • Life jackets save lives:Period. Everybody on the water should be wearing these life-saving jackets.
  • No roughhousing: This means keeping account of everyone on board, keeping kids away from dangerous areas (near the propeller), and making sure everyone on board remains seated while the engine is running.
  • Check your speed: Some boaters think there’s no speed limit on the water. This is not true. Basically, if your vessel is surpassing “reasonable” speeds, you’re boating recklessly. Use common sense. If it feels too fast, it probably is. Also, observe No-Wake zones and speed limits when posted.
  • Check the weather: In Wisconsin, we know the weather can change in an instant. Always check for incoming storms and inclement weather before planning your outing.

And now some penalties

It’s important to know how serious the state of Wisconsin takes its Boating Under the Influence laws. This way, you can stay safe while avoiding these harsh penalties and fines:

  • First offense: This can result in fines up to $300.
  • Second offense: If you’ve had one BWI in the past five years, your second offense could land you in jail for up to six months and run you fines up to $1,000.
  • Third offense: This is getting even more serious. You could face a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
  • BWI resulting in injury: As we’ve already seen in the example at the beginning of this post, BWIs resulting in death lead to prison time. When there’s an injury involved, you could be looking at a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Of course, all of these offenses affect your criminal record.

Boating is one of Wisconsin’s most beloved past times. If you observe all safety measures, hitting our lakes and waterways can make for some valuable memories. If you don’t, you’re putting lives at stake. Keep safe on the water. Your future just might depend on it.

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