Saturday, June 27, 2009

"OperationDry Water" Takes Aim at Impaired Boat Operators

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division is teaming with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and other partner agencies for “Operation Dry Water” the weekend of June 26-28. Operation Dry Water, a coordinated national weekend of BUI detection and enforcement, is aimed at reducing the number of alcohol related accidents and fatalities and fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol use on the water.

Georgia DNR Conservation Rangers will be concentrating patrols in high traffic areas on reservoirs across the state. Along with the use of life jackets and other safety practices, officers want boaters to be aware of the effects and ramifications of alcohol use.

“Statistics show that more than 20 percent of boating-related fatalities are a result of alcohol use, says Colonel Terry West, DNR Chief of Law Enforcement. “This continues an upward trend in the percentage of fatalities where alcohol was the primary cause of the accident.

As part of “Operation Dry Water,” the Georgia DNR will be intensifying efforts to detect and apprehend boat operators who are operating under the influence of alcohol or dangerous drugs. Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time.

Alcohol, mixed with boating activities, creates dangerous conditions that can lead to tragedy. Last year, Conservation Rangers made 215 boating under the influence arrests on Georgia waterways and responded to 18 alcohol-related boating accidents.

“It is not illegal to have alcohol in an open container on a boat, nor is it illegal for a person operating a boat to drink, provided they are no less safe,” says West. “However, if a person is over the age of 21 and has a blood alcohol content of .10 or higher, they are presumed to be less safe and may be charged with boating under the influence.”

People arrested for BUI may lose their privilege to operate a boat. These privileges are not reinstated until the successful completion of an approved Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program. The offender will be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $1,000 fine and/or up to 12 months in prison.

The BUI law establishes a “zero tolerance” blood alcohol level of .02 for people under age 21 who are operating a boat. Minors who are arrested for BUI will face misdemeanor charges. The law also creates misdemeanor offenses for “endangering a child” if a boat operator transports a child under age 14 while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Furthermore, this law also allows for the revocation of boat operator privileges for people who refuse a sobriety test and/or people who have a blood, breath or urine test that shows the presence of illegal drugs or an alcohol level of .10 or higher.

The marine environment, consisting of waves, engine noise, sun and wind, accelerates impairment and fatigue in recreational boaters. This can quickly become a hazardous situation when combined with the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol affects a boat operator’s coordination skills, judgment and reaction time. The consumption of alcohol causes inner ear disturbances, affecting the balance and ability of an intoxicated person who falls overboard to determine the correct route to the water’s surface.

The National Association of State Boating Law Administrators is a national nonprofit organization that works to develop public policy for recreational boating safety. NASBLA represents the recreational boating authorities of all 50 states and the U.S. territories.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division is dedicated to reducing loss of life and injury on U.S. waterways by improving the knowledge, skills and abilities of recreational boaters.

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