LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – Nationally, recreational boating fatalities last year jumped to their highest levels since 1998 and boating under the influence was the leading contributing factor, according to the U.S. Coast Guard's report, 2011 Recreational Boating Statistics. The report comes just weeks before marine law enforcement officers nationwide turn out for Operation Dry Water, an annual campaign focused on enforcement of BUI laws and educating all boaters about the risks of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Boating Law Administrator Stephanie Weatherington says that BUI is a big concern for Arkansas wildlife officers. "It's no different than driving a car under the influence. When you're driving a boat you're putting both yourself and others in danger," she said.
Last year AGFC wildlife officers made 103 BUI arrests. So far this year, there have been 35 BUI arrests. During last year's Operation Dry Water, officers worked 1,650 hours over the three-day weekend making contact with 2,539 vessels and 7,432 boaters, Weatherington said. "They made 20 BUI arrests with the highest BAC level of .19 which is more than double the legal limit," she added. Since 2007, officers have made 349 BUI arrests. Between 2007 and 2011, 21 of the fatal accidents in Arkansas involved alcohol. Toxicology reports on four of the six fatal accidents so far this year are still pending.
Wildlife officers with the AGFC will be participating in Operation Dry Water 2012 again this year. The enforcement operation will be held June 22-24, just prior to the Fourth of July. Those caught operating a vessel under the influence will find their voyage terminated and their vessel possibly impounded. Penalties may also include arrest, fines and loss of boating privileges.
Despite the fact that it is against federal law and most state laws for a person with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher to operate a recreational vessel, BUI continues to be a major problem in the U.S. and accounts for a disproportional number of on the water deaths. Alcohol was a contributing factor in just six percent of boating accidents overall, but figured in 16 percent of boating fatalities.
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 just before the Fourth of July to give BUI enforcement high visibility before a holiday known for drinking and boating – and deadly accidents.
"We want boaters to know the risks of drinking and boating," says John Fetterman, law enforcement director for NASBLA and national spokesperson for Operation Dry Water. "These are needless deaths in a recreational activity that is safe and enjoyable when people stay alert and follow the rules."
Officers from all 56 U.S. states, trusts and territories are expected to participate in Operation Dry Water 2012, educating the public and being on the lookout for boat operators whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds the national limit of .08. For more information on this annual event, visit http://operationdrywater.org