OCEAN CITY – Recreational boaters heading out on the waters in and around the resort this weekend might want to think twice about reaching for a cold beer or their favorite alcoholic beverage as local and state law enforcement agencies are launching Operation Dry Water, an aggressive enforcement initiative aimed at the dangerous practice of boating while intoxicated.
Operation Dry Water got underway today across the nation in the ocean and coastal bays around the resort. Locally, Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) and the U.S. Coast Guard are teaming up to carry out the initiative’s objective including an aggressive campaign to identify and arrest boaters operating under the influence of alcohol and drugs. The heightened enforcement effort will continue throughout the weekend.
Organized by the National Association of State Boating Law Enforcement Administrators, the aggressive operation will employ Coast Guard and NRP patrols throughout the weekend to target high accident areas and known areas where boating and alcohol have created problems in the past.
Those found operating vessels while under the influence can expect penalties to be severe and may include hefty fines, the loss of boating or even driving privileges and jail time in some cases. In 2007, the Coast Guard reported 21 percent of all boating fatalities were the result of alcohol use. Throughout the weekend, the Coast Guard and the NRP will be targeting boaters with blood alcohol contents exceeding the .08 legal limit. Operation Dry Water officials contend the BUI crackdown is just as important as highway patrol officers arresting drunk drivers.
“We want people to have fun while recreation boating, but alcohol use is a problem on the water,” said Capt. Richard Moore, national spokesman for Operation Dry Water. “We recommend people avoid alcohol whenever they are boating and we will have zero tolerance for anyone found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”
Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. Perhaps more importantly, alcohol use can increase fatigue and the susceptibility to cold-water immersion. In addition, sun, wind, vibration and noise, all common stressors in boating, intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs and even some prescription medicines. For all of those reasons, the Coast Guard and NRP officers will be aggressively targeting intoxicated boats all weekend.
“We would rather arrest someone than to have to tell their family and friends they’re never coming back,” said Moore.
Nationwide, roughly 22 percent of all boating fatalities were the result of alcohol use. In Maryland, there were 222 alcohol-related charges against boaters in state waters last year, which is well above the ten-year state average of 129. Local Coast Guard officials said the alarming statistics makes Operation Dry Water more relevant than ever this weekend.
“Nationally, one in five boating deaths are directly caused by operating under the influence of alcohol,” said Coast Guard Capt. Mark O’Malley. “That equates to between five and 15 people who are at risk of being injured or killed this year within Maryland state waters. That’s unacceptable. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the NRP, we’re going to get ahead of the problem this year.”
For their part, NRP officials are ready to hold up their end of Operation Dry Water in waters around Maryland this weekend including the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal bays.
“We will be out in force looking for boaters who are operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol and drugs,” said NRP public information officer Art Windemuth. “Impaired boaters caught this weekend can expect penalties to be severe. In Maryland, they include one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for the first offense.”