Operation Dry Water: Stand by, and prepare to be boarded

Alcohol has an intensified effect when combined with the additional stressors such as the sun, wind, noise, and motion common to the boating environment

Beginning today (June 28, 2013) and throughout this weekend, one of the largest police operations of the year will take place. For three days, maritime units nationwide will be participating in the joint US Coast Guard / National Association of State Boating Law Enforcement Administrators (NASBLA) effort OPERATION DRY WATER and expectations are high. 

An estimated 4,500 officers from more than 500 departments in all 50 states (as well as six territories and trusts) will be working special patrol to ensure that impaired boaters are detected, apprehended, and prosecuted.

In the four years since the annual program began NASBLA estimates that over 1200 impaired operators have been apprehended, 337 in 2012 alone. 

BUI: A Deadly Crime
Unfortunately, boating under the influence is both a deadly and frequently-encountered aspect of American recreational boating. For many boaters, a weekend on the water and a beer in cooler go hand in hand. 

While society in general has finally begun to view driving a car under the influence as an unacceptable, practice, that same stigma has not transferred to boating in the same condition. 

When peer pressure is lacking and personal responsibility is non-existent the only option left is for law enforcement to do what we are ultimately paid for — provide a visible deterrent when possible and make arrests when necessary.

Although Operation Dry Water has not eliminated boating under the influence — nor can we realistically expect this to be an ultimate outcome — it has led to measurable reductions in alcohol related incidents. 

Coast Guard statistics indicate that in 2009 alcohol was a contributing factor in a staggering 19 percent of boating fatalities. Statistics for 2011 indicate that number had dropped to 17 percent, due in great part to the success of Operation Dry Water and the increased level of experience and training gained by those officers who have participated.

BUI Facts
Boating under the influence is against the law in all US jurisdictions and convicted operators can expect to face severe fine, loss of operator privileges and even jail time. Here are some other BUI facts:

•    Impaired operators can be found on any waterway and in any type or size of vessel — whether it’s a cabin cruiser off the New Jersey shore or a canoe on a Missouri back water, the risk is ever present
•    The average boater has only 110 hours of experience per year, meaning they are far less competent than when they’re behind the wheel of their motor vehicle
•    Alcohol has an intensified effect when combined with the additional stressors such as the sun, wind, noise, and motion common to the boating environment — this can make even a “buzzed” boater a deadly prospect

For more information on how your department can participate in this year’s Operation Dry Water, check out the new website

Departments who have already registered can also visit the website to obtain educational material or training information. Boaters can even log on to take a pledge to never boat and drink.

About the author

Tom Burrell began his career in maritime enforcement in 1992 when he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, following his service in the USMC Reserves during Desert Storm. He would see service in Key West, (Fla.) Norfolk, Va., and New York City, both afloat and ashore with duties which ranged from drug and alien interdiction to recreational boating safety. During this time he would serve in a variety of positions including boarding team member, boarding officer, boat crew, coxswain, and master helmsman. Achievements include Coxswain “C” School Honor Graduate, numerous Humanitarian Service awards and involvement in several high profile joint operations — including the security for JFK International Airport during the United Nations 50th Anniversary.

In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission as a Waterways Conservation Officer, a position which would include posting in both the rural north central region, and later in suburban Philadelphia. In 2002 he was promoted to patrol supervisor for the South Central Region and received the PA DUI Association “Top Gun” Award for his efforts in apprehending boaters who were under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance. Tom is currently a Captain assigned to Headquarters. He is also an instructor in the areas of firearms, hand gun retention, handcuffing, OC spray, First Aid & CPR, and Boating Under the Influence Detection/Apprehension.

In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University. In 2007 and 2008 he was granted the opportunity to address the Northeast Association of Criminal Justice Sciences, during their annual conference at Roger William’s University in Bristol (R.I.), concerning the unique search and seizure authority of conservation officers. When not working or going to school Tom enjoys hunting and fishing near his home in south central Pennsylvania and spending time with his wife Amy, daughters Paige and Johanna, and son Ben.

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