With the approach of the Fourth of July bringing warmer, sunnier weather, boats will soon be dotting Narragansett Bay and other Rhode Island waterways. The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and US Coast Guard urge boaters to be responsible and not operate their boats under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The agencies are announcing they’re ramping up enforcement efforts as part of a national crackdown on impaired boating.
The annual Operation Dry Water campaign focuses on reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities, deterring alcohol and drug use on the water, and raising awareness of the seriousness of the problem. DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement will be conducting increased patrols from Friday, July 5, to Sunday, July 7, monitoring for boaters under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“Every year, we see boating accidents and tragedies that could have been avoided, had alcohol or drug use not been a factor. As part of the community ourselves, we try to ensure that recreational boaters, paddlers, and anyone on our waters has a safe place to enjoy time with their family and friends,” said Lieutenant Steven Criscione, boating program manager for DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement. “Alcohol use can impair a boater’s judgement, balance, vision, and reaction time. That is why the RI Environmental Police is joining all 56 states and US territories to do our part in keeping boaters safe and preventing accidents related to boating under the influence.”
During the three-day, heightened awareness and enforcement campaign, DEM and other law enforcement agencies nationwide will be out in force, looking for boaters who choose to boat under the influence and removing them from the water. Enhanced awareness messaging about the dangers of boating under the influence, along with an increased number of officers on the water, aim to cut down on the number of accidents and deaths due to impaired boating.
Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for drivers because most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do operating a car. In addition, factors that are common to boating such as sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion can intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications.
Lieutenant Criscione notes that operating a boat under the influence of alcohol and or drugs has impacts both on and off the water. “Many boaters trailer their boats. An intoxicated boater, if undetected, could eventually get behind the wheel of a car and onto our highways – putting countless people at risk,” he said. “Regardless of whether you personally boat or not, we all have the potential to be impacted by an impaired boater.”
The US Coast Guard finds that alcohol use was the leading cause of recreational boating deaths in 2018 – with 19 percent of all recreational boating fatalities nationwide attributed to it. There are nearly 40,000 registered boats in Rhode Island. According to RI law, the limits (.08 blood alcohol content) and penalties are the same for driving and boating under the influence. Testing standards also are consistent.
Operation Dry Wateris a joint program of RI DEM Environmental Police, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the US Coast Guard, and other partner agencies. As part of the 2018 campaign, DEM boarded 96 vessels, issuing 36 citations and warnings for boating-related equipment, operation, and other violations; conducted two boating under the influence investigations leading to one arrest for refusal to submit to a chemical test; and responded to two boating accidents and made a total of three arrests involving boating offenses.
For more information on Operation Dry Water, please visit operationdrywater.org. For more information on Rhode Island boating laws, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM for timely updates.