According to the most recent U.S. Coast Guard statistics, Boating Under the Influence (BUI) is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, with 17 percent of boating fatalities a direct result of alcohol or drug use. In response to this widespread threat to the safety of innocent, law-abiding boaters nationwide, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the United States Coast Guard have a message for boaters: leave the cold beer at home. That is especially true this weekend — June 25-27, 2010 — when maritime law enforcement officers will be out in full force for Operation Dry Water, the second annual national crackdown on people operating boats and personal watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“BUI is a serious problem that contributes to nearly one in five recreational boating fatalities,” said Col. Terry West, president of NASBLA and national spokesperson for Operation Dry Water, said in a written announcement. "We want people to have fun on the water, but we intend to exercise zero tolerance for BUI. Boaters found to be impaired can expect severe penalties that may include fines, jail time, loss of boating privileges, even loss of driving privileges.”
Tom Burrell, who writes on all matters related to maritime law enforcement for PoliceOne, said in a column last fall, “Every state in the nation has laws against driving under the influence and in each case there are statutes for the operation of motorboats. Yet, I have witnessed an increase in Boating Under the Influence during every year I have been involved in marine enforcement and in every jurisdiction in which I have been stationed. Furthermore, it has been my experience that BUIs are not restricted to only 'party areas' but occur on every waterway and involve every type of boat from the smallest johnboat to the most lavish yacht.”
Operation Dry Water, a national weekend of BUI detection and enforcement aimed at reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities, has been successful in not only drawing public attention to the hazards of BUI, but has resulted in meaningful arrests of violators who otherwise might have hurt or killed innocent boaters on lakes and waterways throughout the United States. According to NASBLA, agencies and organizations from 46 states and five territories participated in Operation Dry Water last year, and during that three-day weekend, more than two thousand marine law enforcement officers made contact with 17,454 recreational vessels and issued 5,320 boating safety warnings, 283 BUI citations, and 1,127 citations for other violations. This year, all 56 states, trusts, and territories are expected to participate, searching for boat operators whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds the national limit of .08 percent.
Burrell, who began his career in maritime enforcement in 1992 when he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, concludes, “Bottom line: impaired operators place the public at risk regardless of where they are or what they are driving. Likewise, our duty to protect and serve requires that we take action to recognize and apprehend these suspects regardless of where we may patrol.”
Below is an excellent — and truly heartbreaking — Public Service Announcement produced by NASBLA, which you can use to help educate citizens in your area about the true dangers of BWI.
Operation Dry Water is held during the summer boating season and coordinated by NASBLA, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies. Click here for more information on Operation Dry Water.