Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and hundreds of other public safety officers will ramp up patrols for intoxicated boaters this weekend, June 29 to July 1.
The enhanced efforts to curb alcohol- and drug-related boating accidents and deaths are part of Operation Dry Water, a nationwide campaign now in its 10th year of highlighting the dangers of boating under the influence of drugs and alcohol and the strict penalties for boating while intoxicated (BWI).
In Minnesota and across the nation, BWI is the leading contributing factor in boating accidents and fatalities. Of the 12 fatal boating accidents that occurred last year in Minnesota, six involved alcohol. Over the past five years, alcohol has been a factor in about 44 percent of boating fatalities.
“People who operate a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs are a danger to themselves and other boaters,” said Lt. Adam Block, DNR Enforcement boating law administrator. “We have zero tolerance for anyone found operating a boat while under the influence.”
While failure to wear life jackets is the reason the majority of fatal boating accidents turn deadly, being intoxicated often is what causes people to end up in the water in the first place. The legal blood-alcohol limit for boaters is .08 percent, but public safety officials encourage boaters to leave alcohol on shore and boat sober on “dry water.”
The Operation Dry Water enhanced enforcement weekend takes place each year just before the Fourth of July, a holiday when BWI-related accidents and deaths tend to spike. Last year in Minnesota, conservation officers arrested five boaters for boating under the influence during the three-day Operation Dry Water.
Minnesota has some of the strongest BWI laws in the country, which should send a message to boaters about the seriousness with which officers take intoxicated boating, Block said.
Boaters convicted of BWI face fines up to $1,000 for a first offense, possible jail time, impoundment of their boat and trailer, and the loss of boat-operating privileges for the first 90 days during the boating season. Intoxicated boaters with prior BWI convictions, who have a child under 16 years old on board, or who have a blood alcohol content of 0.16 may be charged with a gross-misdemeanor or felony crime and subjected to higher monetary fines, mandatory jail time, loss of driver’s license, loss of vehicle plates, and forfeiture of their boat and trailer.
For more information on Operation Dry Water and boating safety, visit www.operationdrywater.org and www.mndnr.gov/boatingsafety.
Operation Dry Water activities are sponsored by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard.