Stay dry while boating or floating on the water

Published 7:26 pm Wednesday, July 3, 2019


Whether you’re the pilot or the passenger, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries urges people on boats to stay sober.

Sgt. Brandon Woodruff, conservational police supervisor for District 14, passed along this information about Operation Dry Water. This weekend — July 5-7 — is when awareness and enforcement will be increased, although it is in effect year-round.

Operation Dry Water is a national awareness and enforcement campaign focused on reducing the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities and fostering a stronger, more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water.

The program, coordinated by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the Coast Guard as well as local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Since the inception of the campaign in 2009, law enforcement officers have reportedly removed 3,532 BUI operators from the nation’s waterways and made contact with over 1.3 million boaters during the annual three-day weekend. The campaign continues to make a significant impact on boater safety and spreading the message of the danger of boating under the influence.

Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; where the primary cause was known, it was listed as the leading factor in 19 percent of deaths according to U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics 2017.

Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is against federal law and most state laws. Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time. It can also increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion.

Sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion — “stressors” common to the boating environment — intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs and some medications.

Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for drivers, since most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car.

Persons found to be boating under the influence can expect to incur severe penalties. If a boat operator is BUI, the voyage may be terminated, the boat may be impounded and the operator may be arrested. Penalties vary by state but can include fines, jail, loss of boating privileges, even loss of driving privileges.

A three-year field evaluation by the Southern California Research Institute completed in 2011 validated a battery of tests for marine use that are now the basis for efforts to implement a National Marine Field Sobriety Test standard.

Combined with chemical tests using blood, breath, and urine samples, these validated ashore and afloat tests give marine law enforcement officers an impressive arsenal in their ongoing efforts to enforce BUI laws.

Alcohol is also dangerous for passengers. Intoxication can lead to slips, falls overboard and other dangerous accidents.

It is illegal in every state and territory to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. BUI laws pertain to all vessels, from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships.

Other Boating Safety Facts*:

• Eighty-four point five percent of people who drowned in a recreational boating accident were not wearing a life jacket. Always wear a life jacket!

• Boat operator instruction is a significant factor in avoiding and surviving accidents. In accidents where the operator’s instruction was known, 81 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had not received any boating safety instruction.

*Source: U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics 2017