Byline: Taylor Hill
Boating law enforcement officers nationwide will participate in the annual “Operation Dry Water” event, June 22-24, aimed to remind boaters prior to Independence Day celebrations of the hazards inherent in boating while intoxicated.
This year, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Marina del Rey Marine Patrol station will be monitoring the harbor, especially near the public launch ramp area. The campaign focuses on enforcement of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) laws and educating all boaters about the risks of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“We want boaters to know the risks of drinking and boating,” said John Fetterman, law enforcement director for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. “These are needless deaths in a recreational activity that is safe and enjoyable when people stay alert and follow the rules.”
Last year in Marina del Rey, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol unit organized a BUI checkpoint at the harbor entrance, stopping each vessel as it came into the harbor.
The checkpoint was part of a joint law enforcement operation in the harbor, as eight California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers were stationed at the public launch ramp, operating a mobile blood alcohol testing unit. Four patrol boats were utilized during the weekend operation, and the boats were staffed with Marine Patrol deputies and CHP officers.
“We had 38 vessel stops last year — and no BUIs,” said Marine Patrol Sgt. Mike Carriles. “Between the newspapers, radio and television reports and the signs, the word got out.”
During the nationwide operation last year, 43,777 vessels and 97,648 boaters were contacted by law enforcement officers, 325 BUI arrests were made, and 4,370 citations and 8,763 warnings were issued for safety violations.
Statewide, law enforcement units participating in this year’s Operation Dry Water safety activities include agencies from Contra Costa, Imperial, Lake, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Solano, Sonoma and Yuma counties.
In 2011, 512 boating accidents, 313 injuries and 54 fatalities were reported to the California Department of Boating and Waterways. Alcohol use was a factor in 16 of those boating accidents and in four fatalities, the department reported.
Studies conducted by the Coast Guard’s Office of Boating Safety reflect the hazards of the overuse of alcohol over the past nine years. In the reported number of boating fatalities, nearly 80 percent of victims were not wearing a life jacket. And in fatal accidents, 59 percent of victims were found to have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) in excess of .04. In non-fatal accidents, 22 percent were found to have a BAC higher than .04.
Operation Dry Water is a multiagency education and enforcement initiative launched by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the Coast Guard, putting thousands of local, state and federal marine law enforcement officers on the water nationwide the last weekend in June to give BUI enforcement high visibility during the peak boating season.