In an effort to curb alcohol- and drug-related boating accidents and deaths, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and hundreds of other public safety officers are ramping up patrols for intoxicated boaters this weekend, June 24-26.
The enhanced enforcement efforts are part of Operation Dry Water – a nationwide annual campaign designed to draw more attention to the dangers of boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and the strict penalties in place for boating while intoxicated (BWI).
“We have zero tolerance for anyone found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” said DNR Conservation Officer Adam Block. “Drunk boating is drunk driving, and carries the same consequences. Intoxicated boat operators will not get a warning; they will be arrested.”
BWI is the leading contributing factor in boating accidents and fatalities, both in Minnesota and nationwide. State boating accident statistics show that over the past five years, 42 percent of fatal boating accidents involved alcohol.
In 2015 alone, alcohol was a factor in seven out of 16 fatal boating accidents.
“The majority of fatal boating accidents turn deadly because the victim isn’t wearing a life jacket. But being intoxicated is often what causes them to end up in the water in the first place,” Block said.
Last year, 78 BWI arrests were made statewide, which represents more than a 55 percent decrease since Operation Dry Water debuted in 2009. The Operation Dry Water enhanced enforcement weekend takes place annually just before the Fourth of July – a holiday when BWI-related accidents and deaths tend to spike.
While a blood alcohol level of .08 is the legal limit for boat operators – the same limit as for driving a vehicle – Block said “boaters are encouraged to leave the alcohol on dry land and choose to boat sober on “dry water.”
According to Block, Minnesota has some of the strongest BWI laws in the country, which he said should send a message to boaters about the importance of boating sober.
Boaters convicted of BWI face significant monetary 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 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 limit of .16, may be charged with a gross misdemeanor or felony crime and subject to higher monetary fines, mandatory jail time, loss of driver’s license, loss of vehicle plates, and forfeiture of their boat and trailer.
Operation Dry Water activities are sponsored by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard.