Operation Dry Water, launched in 2009 by NASBLA, has been a highly successful effort to draw public attention to the hazards of BUI. Operation Dry Water is a national weekend of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) detection and enforcement aimed at reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities and fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water. More information is available at www.operationdrywater.org.
Last summer, agencies and organizations from 50 states and six U.S. territories participated in the third Operation Dry Water weekend. Over that three-day weekend, agents made 325 DWI citations on the water nationwide.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is doing its part in this national effort with increased safe boating patrols and checkpoints. LDWF agents issued 108 DWI citations to boat operators in 2011.
Louisiana had 36 boating fatalities in 2011, with five having alcohol as the primary cause. Nationwide, statistics from 2011 reveal that 16 percent of all boat incident fatalities were a direct result of alcohol or drug use.
Also, out of those 26 fatalities, 19 drowned without wearing a PFD.
Alcohol consumption impairs a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. Alcohol also increases fatigue and susceptibility to hypothermia. Intensifying the effects of alcohol are sun, wind, noise, vibration and movement, which are all common to boating activities.
The penalties for DWI on the water are the same as on the road. Anyone cited for a DWI on the water or on the road will lose his or her driver’s license and boating privileges for the specified time ordered by the judge in the case. Also, each offense of operating a vehicle or vessel while intoxicated counts toward the total number of DWI crimes whether they happened on the water or road.
In Louisiana a DWI can be issued to anyone operating a moving vessel or vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. First offense DWI on the water or on the road carries a $300 to $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Second offense DWI brings a $750 to $1,000 fine and between 30 days and six months in jail. Third offense DWI carries a $5,000 fine and between one and five years in jail.
Everybody born after January 1, 1984 must complete a boaters safety education course to operate a vessel in excess of 10 HP. LDWF started its boating safety program in 2003 and since then has certified over 40,000 students. LDWF offers these classes statewide free of charge. Class information can be found at www.wlf.louisiana.gov. In accidents where the level of boat operator instruction is known, nearly 80 percent of fatalities occur in accidents where the operator has not received boating safety instruction.
Studies have shown that states with a mandatory boating education program have fewer boating incidents that result in fatalities than states that have no boating education program. States with a boating education program for more than 20 years had 3.67 fatalities per 100,000 registered boats, and states with no boating education program had 6.61 fatalities per 100,000 boats.
According to the National Transportation and Safety Board, recreational boating accidents are second only to highway accidents in the number of transportation fatalities.
A boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration.
It is illegal in every state and territory to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
BUI laws pertain to ALL boats, from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships.
Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for drivers, since most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car. Boaters nationwide average only about 110 hours of boating per year. Louisiana boat operators average over 20 trips a year.
Boating Under the Influence can have severe consequences. If a boat operator is BUI, the voyage may be terminated, the boat may be impounded and the operator may be arrested.
Alcohol is also dangerous for passengers. Intoxication can lead to slips, falls overboard and other dangerous accidents.