Drinking and boating? The state is watching you

The state’s Environmental Conservation (EnCon) police will be stepping up enforcement activities this weekend on those who may be boating under the influence in Connecticut.

EnCon police officers will participate in Operation Dry Water and will be out in force from Friday, June 28 to Sunday, June 30 looking for boaters with a blood alcohol content exceeding the state limit of 0.08%.

Operation Dry Water will include statewide increased patrols and checkpoints, as well as boater education efforts.

Penalties for drunk boating are severe

Impaired boaters can expect penalties to be severe, according to state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) officials. In Connecticut, potential penalties include fines, jail and loss of boating privileges.

“We intend to educate as many boaters as possible about the hazards of boating while under the influence (BUI) and make arrests if need be,” said EnCon Capt. Ryan Healy, spokesman for the Operation Dry Water effort in this state.

“If you are caught boating under the influence, you will face the consequences,” Healy said. “We want recreational boaters to enjoy themselves, but there will be zero tolerance for BUI.”

BUI in Connecticut

BUI continues to be a major problem in Connecticut and the United States, DEEP officials said.

In Connecticut last year, 67% of boating accidents that resulted in fatalities (four of six reported) were alcohol-related, and 29% of accidents with injuries (six of 21 reported) were alcohol-related.

There was a total 12 BUI arrests in 2012 in Connecticut. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher is against federal law and state law.

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 vessels, from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships.

Drinking and boating is dangerous

A boat operator or even passengers with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit run a significantly increased risk of being involved in a fatal boating accident.

When impaired by alcohol, boating accidents are more probable and more deadly for both passengers and boat operators, many of whom capsize their vessel or simply fall overboard.

Sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion — “stressors” common to the boating environment — intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications.

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 average only about 110 hours of boating per year.

The enforcement effort

Operation Dry Water, a multi-agency, education and enforcement initiative launched by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in 2009 in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, puts thousands of local, state and federal marine law enforcement officers on the water nationwide prior to the Fourth of July holiday to give BUI enforcement high visibility during the peak boating season.

Nationwide in 2012 during the Operation Dry Water three-day weekend, law enforcement officers contacted 49,209 vessels and 113,116 boaters, made 337 BUI arrests, and issued 4,819 citations and 9,695 warnings for safety violations.

For information go to operationdrywater.org or to the DEEP website at www.ct.gov/deep/enconpolice.