Operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol really is no different than operating a vehicle in the same condition — they both can have deadly consequences.
People who are on the water should be aware of this especially during crowded periods like the upcoming July 4th weekend.
There is a significant presence of boaters on the water during this holiday weekend. Thus, in an effort to thwart an increase number of boating incidents and fatalities related to boating under the influence Operation Dry Water (ODW) was instituted in 2009.
Although ODW is a year-round campaign, more attention is given to it during the July 4th weekend because of heighten awareness and enforcement. The mission of ODW is to reduce the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities through increased recreational boater awareness and by fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol use on the water.
Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in recreational boating deaths. Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time, all of which are of vital importance to a vessel operator and passengers. Where cause of death was known, nearly 80% of fatal boating incident victims drowned.
Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs and some medications and add additional “stressers.”
More than 4,700 impaired operators have been removed from the nation’s waterways since ODW was instituted.
The blood alcohol level for boating under the influence (BUI) is the same as operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) in Ohio — 0.08. During the 2020 operation, 625 people were cited for BUI. The highest BUI was 0.368.
“Our mission is to ensure that everyone on the water has a safe and enjoyable experience,” says Tim Dunleavy, chairman of the National Associated of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). “This means that all operators and passengers should choose to boat sober all season long. Boating under the influence is a 100% preventable crime. Operation Dry Water, participating law enforcement agencies and our boating safety partners encourage boaters to stay safe by staying sober while boating.”
Impairment is not limited to the boat operator. Passengers who are under the influence are at-risk of serious injury, whether the boat operator is sober or impaired and whether the boat is underway or not. Among hazards that intoxication can cause are slips, falls over board and other dangerous incidents.
The U.S. Coast Guard, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies participate in ODW. There were 620 total agencies who participated in the 2020 operation and involved 7,612 officers. These officers made 105,517 vessel contacts and 305,466 contacts. A total of 8,666 citations were issued and 28,659 safety warnings were given.
The Water Sports Foundation (WSF) recommends the following tips to maximize boating fun and safety.
• Boaters should conduct a thorough inspection of their vessels and trailers to ensure everything is in working order. Check with the local Coast Guard auxiliary or Power Squadron for free vessel safety checks.
• Conduct a pre-departure check to make sure all required safety equipment is secured on board and operational.
• Top on the list: ensure life jackets are available and properly fit for weight and size for every passenger, especially youngsters. Life jackets save lives.
• Check weather conditions and plan accordingly. Be prepared to find shelter or return home if inclement weather is approaching.
• Never overload your boat. Check the capacity plate and follow all weight mandates.
• If you are operating a boat 26 feet or smaller, make sure to comply with the new federal law requiring boat operators to wear and engage ECOS: Emergency Cut-Off Switch. Worn by the captain, this safety lanyard will shut off the engine immediately in the case of an overboard fall.
• Make sure VHF radios, phones and EPIRB transponders work. Consider carrying a portable cell phone battery charger as back-up.
• Pack sunscreen, first-aid kit and a basic toolkit.
“We want boaters to avoid becoming a boating statistic over this holiday weekend by practicing a few safety measures to keep everyone safe,” said Jim Emmons, executive director of WSF. “We believe safe boaters are happy boaters, so let’s all have fun by being well-prepared and safe on the water.”
Al Smith is a freelance outdoor writer. You may contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @alsmithFL