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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Drinking and boating don’t mix: Operation Dry Water in effect June 26-28

In an effort to curb alcohol-related boating accidents and deaths, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other public safety agencies around the state will ramp up patrols for intoxicated boaters June 26-28.

The amplified enforcement efforts are part of Operation Dry Water – a national campaign designed to draw more attention to the dangers of boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Boating while intoxicated (BWI) is one of the leading factors for boating accidents and fatalities in Minnesota and across the nation. State boating accident statistics show that over the past five years, an average of 42 percent of fatal boating accidents were alcohol-related.

In 2014 alone, alcohol was a factor in six out of 14 boating fatalities.

 "We have zero tolerance for anyone found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the state's strict penalties for BWI make that clear," said DNR Conservation Officer Adam Block. "Drunk boating is drunk driving. Boaters should be aware that a BWI on your record has the same consequences as a DWI."

In Minnesota, a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher while operating a boat is against the law – the same limit as for driving a vehicle.

Boaters convicted of BWI face significant monetary fines (up to $1,000 for a first offense), possible jail time, impoundment of their boat and trailer, and the loss of boat operating privileges for 90 days during the boating season.

Intoxicated boaters with prior BWI convictions, who have a child under 16 years old on board, or who have a blood alcohol limit of .20, may be charged with a gross misdemeanor or felony crime and subject to higher monetary fines, mandatory jail time, loss of driver's license, loss of vehicle plates, and forfeiture of their boat and trailer.

"There are severe consequences for boating while intoxicated," Block said. "But we'd rather arrest someone than have to tell their friends and family -- or the friends and family of an innocent victim -- that they're never coming home. No one should ever be injured or killed because someone chose to drink and boat."

In addition to highlighting the danger and penalties associated with BWI, DNR boat and water safety officials recommend that all boaters simply leave the alcohol on shore and enjoy recreating on "dry water," since the effects of alcohol can be quickly magnified by environmental factors while on the water, such as dehydration, sun exposure, noise from other boats and sudden movement caused by waves or passing boats.

"The DNR appreciates the many county sheriffs' deputies and other law enforcement officers who will be out in force as part of Operation Dry Water," said DNR Boating Law Administrator Stan Linnell. "We hope that this highly-visible effort will not only deter drinking and boating this weekend, but will serve as a reminder for boaters to stay safe and sober over the July 4 holiday as well – a time when we typically see an unfortunate spike in alcohol-involved boating accidents."

For more information on Operation Dry Water and boating safety, visit www.operationdrywater.org  and www.mndnr.gov/boatingsafety.

Operation Dry Water activities are sponsored by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard.

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