For three days this weekend before July 4th, law enforcement at local, state and federal levels will be on heightened alerts for boaters under the influence. The annual Operation Dry Water campaign seeks to remind boaters of safety measures to keep deaths and injuries low.
“There’s always a problem when there is any boating under the influence,” said Capt. Mark Padgett, of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources’ law enforcement division in Thomson.
The Thomson region, which runs from the South Carolina line to Newton County, hasn’t seen an “overwhelming” number of BUIs so far this year, but boating is always heaviest July 4th.
The past two weeks on the water have already been “extremely busy,” Padgett said.
This year, Georgia has had 74 boating under the influence arrests, 35 boating accidents and more than 30 drownings, according to Padgett.
“Boating should be a fun and enjoyable time spent with friends and family,” said John Fetterman, the deputy executive director of National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. “We are asking that boaters make sure their voyage remains enjoyable by boating sober. Too many accidents and deaths are caused by those who choose to boat under the influence.”
Last year, more than 500 agencies participated in the operation, making 290 arrests and issuing more than 17,000 citations and warnings for safety violations.
Since the operation began in 2009, there has been a 37 percent decrease in the number of recreational boater deaths where alcohol was a primary contributing factor, according to a news release from the boating association.
From 2012 to 2013, there was a 31 percent increase – the most significant decrease observed.
In March 2013, Georgia lowered BUI levels from 0.10 to .08, putting it at the same level as DUI.
The change was in response to a Lake Lanier accident the previous year that resulted in the death of two boys.
Another law, which required everyone younger than 13 to wear a life jacket, also went into effect.
DNR officers, including Padgett, will be looking for all violations during the operation, which begins Friday, but will also be educating the public on a new boater education law that goes into effect July 1.
The new law requires anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1998, to complete a boating safety course to operate a motorized vessel, including personal watercraft. Youths 12 to 15 are allowed to operate a vessel less than 16 feet in length after passing the course or if accompanied by an adult.