Minnesota’s Operation Dry Water part of nationwide effort to curb drunk boating

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Looking forward to relaxing on the boat this weekend with that ice chest full of cold beer? Better think again. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers and county sheriff’s deputies will be participating in Operation Dry Water on June 24-26.

It is part of a national weekend of boating-under-the-influence (BUI) detection and enforcement aimed at reducing the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities. A goal is to foster a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water.

The enforcement push will include boater education, and increased patrols looking for boat operators whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds the .08 limit.

“There will be arrests this weekend, and some boaters will face the consequences of boating under the influence,” said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement Division director. “But we’d much rather arrest someone than to have to tell their friends and family they’re never coming back.”

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, which are “stressors” common to the boating environment, intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs and some prescription medications.

Thirty-percent of Minnesota boating fatalities in 2010 involved the use of alcohol. Impaired boaters who are caught can expect severe penalties, including heavy fines, loss of boat operating privileges and even jail time. Convictions go on a person’s auto driving record and insurance policy.

“We want people to have fun while boating,” Konrad said. “But BUI is a leading contributing factor in fatal recreational boating accidents. We recommend that people avoid drinking alcoholic beverages while boating. We have zero tolerance for anyone found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs on Minnesota waters.”

Curbing the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities is key to achieving a safer and more enjoyable environment for recreational boating. Last summer, agencies and organizations from all 50 states and six U.S. territories participated in the Operation Dry Water weekend. During that three-day weekend there were 66,472 boaters contacted by law enforcement, 322 BUI arrests, and 4,171 citations and 7,522 warnings issued for safety violations. This included six BUI arrests in Minnesota.

This year, all states are expected to participate. In Minnesota, Operation Dry Water is a joint program of the Minnesota DNR, Minnesota county sheriffs’ offices, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the U.S. Coast Guard.

OPERATION DRY WATER 2011 FACT SHEET

  • Operation Dry Water was launched in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) in partnership with the United States Coast Guard. It has been a highly successful effort to draw public attention to the hazards of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) of alcohol and drugs. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has taken part in the program since its inception.
  • Held in June just prior to the 4th of July holiday, Operation Dry Water is a national weekend of BUI detection and enforcement aimed at reducing the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities, and fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water.
  • Operation Dry Water is coordinated by NASBLA, in partnership with the states, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies.
  • In 2010, all 50 States and six U.S. Territories participated in Operation Dry Water. Over that three-day weekend there were 40,127 vessels and 66,472 boaters contacted by law enforcement, 322 BUI arrests made, and 4,171 citations and 7,522 warnings issued for safety violations. This includes six BUI arrests made in Minnesota.

About BUI:

  • In Minnesota, about 30 percent of fatal boating accidents have some alcohol involvement.
  • Operating a boat with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08 or higher is against both federal and Minnesota law.
  • Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. It can 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.
  • Alcohol consumption can result in an inner ear disturbance that can make it impossible for a person suddenly immersed in water to distinguish up from down.
  • 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. Minnesota boaters average only about 60 hours of boating per year.
  • A three-year field evaluation by the Southern California Research Institute recently 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.
  • 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 can include fines, jail time, loss of motorboat operating privileges, and under some circumstances, the forfeiture of the boat and trailer.
  • In addition to the above penalties, persons who refuse testing will also be subject to a separate and more severe criminal charge for refusal and loss of their motorboat operating privileges for one year.
  • 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.

Other Boating Safety Facts:

  • Almost three-fourths of those who die in boating accidents drown; most of those who drown are not wearing a life jacket.[1]
  • Boat operator instruction is a significant factor in avoiding and surviving accidents. Only 14 percent of fatalities in 2009 occurred on boats where the operator was known to have received boating safety instruction.[2]

1 U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics 2009

2 U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics 2009