SAFETY: Marine patrols will look for boaters under the influence

Staff reportJune 22, 2014 

Marine patrol boats from 30 agencies statewide will be on the water for Operation Dry Water beginning Friday and running through June 29. It is a nationwide program meant to reduce the number of boaters operating a watercraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

STEVE BLOOM/STAFF FILE, 2007

More than 30 law enforcement agencies around the state will be working to reduce the instances boating under the influence during Operation Dry Water.

Now in its sixth year, the nationwide campaign will take place from Friday through June 29.

More than 510 agencies from all 56 states, trusts and territories of the United States are expected to join the effort.

The emphasis campaign will target people who are operating boats while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, in hopes of reducing the number of accidents where those are a factor.

According to the State Parks Boating Program, at least 64 people died in state boating accidents from 2004-13 where alcohol use was a contributing factor. In addition, recently released U.S. Coast Guard statistics show boating under the influence is still the leading factor in fatal boating accidents, with 17 percent of boating fatalities a direct result of alcohol use by the operator.

“Boating under the influence is a serious problem that too often results in recreational boating fatalities,” Hoyle Hodges, Operation Dry Water spokesman for State Parks, said in a news release. “We want everyone to have fun on the water, so this campaign is focused on zero tolerance for boat operators who are under the influence.”

He said reducing alcohol and drug use by boat operators is crucial to achieving a safer recreational boating environment.

“Boaters need to realize that alcohol can impair their judgment, balance, vision and reaction time,” Hodges said in the release. “It can increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion. Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion — all common stressors in the boating environment — intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs and even some prescription medications.”

Hodges said 30 state, county and city marine law enforcement agencies are signed up to join the effort.

During last year’s campaign, 169 Washington marine law enforcement officers made contact with 3,908 recreational boaters and issued 1,364 boating safety warnings, six boating under the influence citations and 219 citations for other violations.

Overall, officers contacted 144,044 recreational boaters and made 290 BUI arrests during the 2013 three-day weekend.

The first special emphasis weekend was held in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the Coast Guard.

According to the 2013 U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics report, from 2009-13 there has been a 37 percent decrease in the number of recreational boater deaths where alcohol use was listed as the known primary contributing factor. From 2012 to 2013, there was a 31 percent decrease in the number of alcohol-related recreational boater deaths — the most biggest decrease in the past five years.

To learn more

For more information on Operation Dry Water, visit operationdrywater.org.

For more on the state’s safe boating program, go to parks.wa.gov/ boating.

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