Drinking and boating? Law enforcement will be looking for you

PORTLAND, Ore. - It's going to be a hot one this weekend and that means there may be more boaters heading out to our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

It's also the weekend for Operation Dry Water - a nationally coordinated effort to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities related to boating under the influence (BUI).

Extra marine patrols will be out in force looking for intoxicated boaters. Get caught operating a boat while you're legally drunk and you can expect some serious penalties - fines, jail time and more.

"We practice a zero tolerance policy for vessel operation while impaired," said Sheriff Garry Lucas with the Clark County Sheriff's Office, which will have extra marine patrols out this weekend.

"Boating is a safe and enjoyable pastime when people stay alert and follow the rules," said Dale Flowers, Law Enforcement Training Coordinator for the Oregon State Marine Board. "You will see marine patrols out on the water looking for boaters who show impairment, which is easy to detect in many cases due to reckless operation and other unsafe behavior."

From Operation Dry Water's Fact Sheet

  • U.S. Coast Guard 2012 data reveals that alcohol was a primary contributing factor in 17 percent of fatalities from recreational boating accidents.
  • In 2012, alcohol was a contributing factor in just 8 percent of boating accidents overall, but figured in 17 percent of boating fatalities.
  • Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher is against federal law and most state laws.
  • Alcohol can impair a boater's judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time. It can increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion.
  • Sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion - "stressors" common to the boating environment - intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications.
  • Alcohol consumption can result in an inner ear disturbance that can make it impossible for a person suddenly immersed in water to distinguish up from down.
  • Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for motor vehicle drivers since most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car. Boaters average only about 110 hours of boating per year.
  • A three-year field evaluation by the Southern California Research Institute, completed in 2010, validated a battery of tests for marine use that are now the basis for efforts to implement a National Marine Field Sobriety Test standard.
  • Combined with chemical tests using blood, breath, and urine samples, these validated ashore and afloat tests give marine law enforcement officers an impressive arsenal in their ongoing efforts to enforce BUI laws.
  • Persons found to be boating under the influence can expect to incur severe penalties. If a boat operator is BUI, the voyage may be terminated, the boat may be impounded and the operator may be arrested. Penalties vary by state, but can include fines, jail, loss of boating privileges, and even loss of vehicle driving privileges.
  • Alcohol is also dangerous for passengers. Intoxication can lead to slips, falls overboard and other dangerous accidents.
  • It is illegal in every state and territory to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. BUI laws pertain to all boats, from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships.