Alert on the water: Officers on lookout for impaired boaters during holiday weekend | SierraSun.com

Alert on the water: Officers on lookout for impaired boaters during holiday weekend

This holiday weekend, law enforcement agencies and officers around Lake Tahoe will be on heightened alert for boaters under the influence as part of the nationwide Operation Dry Water campaign.

“Operation Dry water will be (July 5-7),” said U.S. Coast Guard Station Lake Tahoe Officer in Charge Colt Fairchild. “The holiday is known for drinking and boating nationwide. We’ll be out there for enforcement, and education as well. We’ll be making contact with boaters on the water and we’ll be out there answering any questions.”

Local agencies will join hundreds of officers and agencies from around the country to participate in the national campaign, which began in 2009 and is coordinated by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard along with local, state, and federal law agencies. The campaign is anchored in education and prevention of impaired boating, along with the enforcement of laws against boating under the influence of alcohol, which is the leading contributing factor in recreation boater deaths, according to the coast guard, and a leading factor in recreational boater accidents.

“We see too many tragedies and deaths every year that were 100% preventable and caused by those who chose to boat while impaired,” said Hannah Helsby, deputy executive director for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in a news release. “Those involved in Operation Dry Water, including participating law enforcement agencies and our boating safety partners, urge every boater keep themselves and others on the water safe by choosing to stay sober while boating.”

“We see too many tragedies and deaths every year that were 100% preventable and caused by those who chose to boat while impaired.” — Hannah Helsby, National Association of State Boating Law Administrators

Alcohol was a contributing factor in more than 30 percent of California’s boating fatalities during the past five years, according to the coast guard, where testing was conducted. In the Coast Guard’s 2017 executive summary, a total of 4,291 recreational boating accidents were counted. Of those, 658 deaths were reported and approximately $46 million in property damage was caused. Alcohol was listed as the primary leading factor in 19% of deaths. Alcohol use was also listed as the fifth-leading primary contributing factor for the number of accidents with 275 instances being cited by the coast guard in 2017. During 2017 in California, alcohol was a contributing factor in 14 accidents and four deaths. Nevada had two accidents and one death where alcohol was a contributing factor in 2017.

“Our waterways during the upcoming Fourth of July holiday will be crowded,” said California Division of Boating and Waterways Acting Deputy Director Ramona Fernandez in a news release. “Accidents that happen when an operator is impaired can hurt many people. Everyone onboard a boat is at risk when an operator uses alcohol and/or drugs while boating. It can also be deadly when passengers are drunk, as they can fall overboard or be the cause of distracted driving.”

Since the start of Operation Dry Water in 2009, law enforcement officers across the nation have removed over 3,500 impaired operators from waterways during the annual three-day weekend. In 2018, 574 agencies from every state and territory took part in the Operation Dry Water weekend.

In California and Nevada, it is against the law to operate a boat or water ski with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more. Officers may arrest boaters with a blood alcohol concentration less than 0.08 percent if conditions are deemed unsafe. Convictions for boating under the influence can result in up to six months in jail and/or fines of up to $1,000. Two convictions within seven years could add a jail term of up to one year. Boaters caught operating under the influence may also have their vessel impounded.

Environmental stressors such as wind, noise, and the movement of the boat while on the water, intensify the effects of alcohol or drug use on an individual while boating. Boaters can become impaired much more quickly on the water than on land, with less amounts of alcohol. Impairment can lead to collisions, falls overboard, injuries and deaths that could have been prevented if boaters had made the decision not to drink alcohol or be otherwise impaired while boating.

Operation Dry Water is a year-round boating under the influence awareness and enforcement campaign with the mission of reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related incidents and fatalities through increased recreational boater awareness and by fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water. For more information about Operation Dry Water visit http://www.operationdrywater.org.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com.