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Coast Guard, local agencies to increase weekend patrols during 'Operation Dry Water'

June 25, 2015

CHICAGO  – U.S. Coast Guard and maritime law enforcement agencies on the Great Lakes and surrounding areas will partner Friday through Sunday for the seventh annual “Operation Dry Water” campaign.

This nationwide, multi-agency campaign focuses on boater education and raising awareness that it is unsafe, as well as illegal, to operate a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The Coast Guard and other local law enforcement agencies on the inland waterways are partnering with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators in an intensified effort to detect intoxicated boaters and to enforce boating under the influence laws.  

In 2014, participants in the Operation Dry Water campaign removed 318 BUI operators from U.S. waterways and made contact with over 146,700 boaters on 58,670 vessels during the three-day weekend.

Alcohol use continues to be the leading known contributing factor in recreational boating deaths and was identified in 21 percent of recreational boating fatalities in 2014.

Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for drivers, since most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is against federal law and most state laws.

The Coast Guard and each state have stringent penalties for violating BUI laws. Persons who are found to be boating under the influence can expect to incur severe penalties. If it is determined that an operator is impaired:

  •  the voyage may be terminated.
  • the vessel may also be towed to a local marina by a law enforcement agency.
  • a competent and un-intoxicated person on board the recreational vessel may be asked to bring the boat to mooring 
  • depending on the circumstances, the operator may be arrested, detained until sober, or turned over to state or local authorities.
  • 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 driving privileges.

Boating under the influence can be just as deadly as drinking and driving. A boat operator consuming alcohol is likely to become impaired more quickly than a person who consumes alcohol and then drives a vehicle. Alcohol while boating affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination.

Alcohol has many physical effects that directly threaten safety and well-being on the water. For example, when a boater or passenger drinks, the following can occur:

  • cognitive abilities and judgment deteriorate, making it harder to process information, assess situations, and make good choices.
  • physical performance is impaired – affecting balance, a decrease in peripheral vision, poor focus, and difficulty in distinguishing colors
  • inner ear disturbances can make it impossible for a person who falls into the water to distinguish up from down.
  • alcohol can create a physical sensation of warmth - which may prevent a person in cold water from getting out before hypothermia sets in.
  • the marine environment -  such as motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray – accelerates a drinker's impairment. these stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator's coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster when using alcohol than consuming alcohol on land.

“We want boaters to have a safe and enjoyable time on the water, but we want them to be responsible. Operators are responsible for the safety of themselves, their passengers and other boaters,” said Chief Warrant Officer Phil Robinson, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Calumet Harbor. "Boaters also need to know we will have increased patrols this weekend and will be on the lookout for those who are boating under the influence. If we suspect you are boating under the influence, you will be boarded.”     

The Coast Guard reminds people to call 911 if they see someone on the water who is under the influence or is endangering the safety and lives of others. Gather as much information as possible about the boat and location.

For more information on Operation Dry Water, please visit

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