Wisconsin joins Operation Dry Water

Boaters on Wisconsin lakes and rivers this weekend will see Department of Natural Resources conservation wardens and municipal boat patrols stopping any impaired boat operator whose blood alcohol level is more than the state’s limit of 0.08 percent.

The patrols are part of the fifth annual nationwide Operation Dry Water.

The simple message from the Wisconsin wardens to all water enthusiasts for Operation Dry Water weekend and every boating day is: have fun, stay sober and drive safely.

Warden Todd Schaller, who heads the DNR Recreation Enforcement and Education section of the DNR’s Bureau of Law Enforcement, says the timing of the annual weekend dedicated to highlighting the importance of sober boat operation is no accident.

“The last weekend in June leads to Fourth of July – which is known for boating fun. Patrols will be out to enforce the message boating is fun and even more fun for all when you’re sober,” Schaller said. “This is a very simple lesson wardens will be pushing – never drink while behind the wheel of anything – a boat, a car, a snowmobile, an ATV.”

Operation Dry Water 2013 is a nationwide education and enforcement initiative launched by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard. It puts thousands of local, state and federal marine law enforcement officers on the water across the country to give operating-while-intoxicated enforcement high visibility during the peak boating season.

Since the launch of Operation Dry Water in 2009, the percentage of boating fatalities with alcohol listed as a contributing factor has decreased from 19 percent to 17 percent in the United States. Despite the decrease, BUI still accounts for a disproportional number of on-the-water deaths. In 2011, alcohol was a contributing factor in 8 percent of boating accidents overall, but figured in 17 percent of boating fatalities.

“Wardens will be removing intoxicated boat operators from the water. We hope to educate as many boaters as possible about the hazards of operating while intoxicated to achieve voluntary compliance,” Schaller said.

People found operating a motorboat with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher will find their voyage terminated and they will be removed from the water for everyone’s safety.

Statewide in 2012, 157 officers from 23 state and local law enforcement patrols participated in Operation Dry Water. During the three-day weekend, Wisconsin law enforcement officers contacted 1,488 vessels and 3,030 boaters, made 11 boating under the influence (BUI)arrests and issued 704 citations and warnings for violations.

A boat operator or passenger with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit runs a significantly increased risk of being involved in a boating accident, Schaller said. When impaired by alcohol, boating accidents are more likely and more deadly for both passengers and boat operator – many of whom capsize their vessel or simply fall overboard.

Operating while intoxicated is a primary contributing factor in nearly one in five boating fatalities nationwide, and Wisconsin’s conservation wardens and boat patrols are committed to enforcing laws against this high-risk behavior to protect everyone on the water.

“Boaters who operate while intoxicated will face consequences,” Schaller said. “There will be zero tolerance for boating under the influence.”