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With Independence Day falling on a Monday this year, many people are taking full advantage of an extended stay at their favorite lakeside retreat. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is asking that everyone enjoying the revelry be aware of the dangers brought about by drinking while aboard a boat. To help make the weekend safe, wildlife officers throughout Arkansas are gearing up for Operation Dry Water July 2-4.
Operation Dry Water is a weekend of increased enforcement throughout the nation to prevent instances of boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. During last year’s Independence Day Weekend, Arkansas wildlife officers spent 2,137 man hours on the water, contacting nearly 2,000 vessels. They issued 228 warnings and had to issue 107 citations. Twelve individuals were arrested for Boating Under the Influence, one of which was taken in for his third offense. All of these efforts may have prevented serious accidents while on the water or the drive home.
Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, AGFC boating law administrator, says not only does being caught boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs carry a stiff fine, it also is grounds for a person to lose their driver’s license just as though they were ticketed for driving under the influence.
Boating while intoxicated can be even more dangerous than driving a car while intoxicated, as most boaters have less experience operating a boat. Additionally, boats don’t have brakes and are slower to maneuver than cars. These slower reaction times to a sudden danger can be the difference between life and death.
Weatherington says the effects of alcohol also are magnified by the conditions boating creates.
“The sun, heat, wind and motion all intensify alcohol’s impact on a person,” Weatherington said. “A person who normally wouldn’t feel much effect of one or two beers in an indoor setting may find themselves impaired much more quickly on the water.”
The added impact of alcohol can be a danger to passengers as well as drivers. Although not illegal, passengers who consume too much alcohol can make poor judgements that can lead to injuries and death as well.
Weatherington says she receives calls every year asking if it’s okay to have alcohol on a boat at all. In most cases it’s fine to have an alcoholic beverage onboard, but people should pay attention to the county they are boating in.
“Dry counties are still dry, even on the water,” Weatherington said. “Sheriff’s departments can and will enforce those regulations just as if they were on land.”
Operation Dry Water was launched in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Since its inception, Operation Dry Water has helped law enforcement officers remove 5,358 BUI operators from the nation’s waterways and contact more than 2.2 million boaters to help everyone have a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend.