Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish boaters might see more of a police presence this weekend as the King County Marine Patrol and take to the water June 22-24 for Operation Dry Water.
The annual campaign aims to detect and enforce boating under the influence (BUI) laws on the state’s waterways. The King County Marine Patrol enforces the law on Lake Sammamish as part of an interlocal agreement with the City of Redmond and other jurisdictions.
Both the county and Mercer Island patrols are taking part in the weekend BUI emphasis. Officers from all 50 U.S. states and six territories are expected to participate in Operation Dry Water 2012 to help educate the public and be on the lookout for boat operators whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds the national limit of .08, according to the Mercer Island Marine Patrol. 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 vessels.
This operation will consist of additional patrols on the water and is similar to a land based DUI patrol, according to Mercer Island Marine Patrol Sgt. Jim Robarge.
"A significant percentage of fatal or serious injury and/or drowning incidents involve an alcohol element," he said. “It’s important to realize that 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—all common stressors in the boating environment—intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs and even some prescription medications. We would rather arrest you than have you be involved in a boating accident and potentially hurting or killing yourself or someone else.”
The U.S. Coast Guard recently reported that alcohol is the leading contributing factor in boating fatalities; nearly one in five boating fatalities each year is the result of boaters impaired by alcohol. According to Washington State Parks Boating Programs, between 2007 and 2011, at least 30 people died in reportable boating accidents where alcohol use was a contributing factor.
The Washington state emphasis is supported by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard. Boat operators may be cited if their blood alcohol concentration exceeds the state limit of .08. Currently, 50 Washington marine law enforcement agencies are signed on for the effort.
Last year, the Mercer Island Police Department's Marine Patrol arrested boaters on suspicion of BUI in 27 separate incidents—the vast majority (25 cases) during the annual Seafair celebration. A total of 70 arrests for BUI for all of Seafair was reported—22 by the MIPD, 47 by Washington Fish & Wildlife, and 1 arrest by the King County Sheriff's Office.
“Boat operation under the influence is a serious problem that too often results in recreational boating fatalities,” said Mark Kenny, Washington State Parks’ spokesperson for Operation Dry Water. “We want people to have fun on the water, so this campaign is focused on zero tolerance for boat operators who are under the influence.”
Authorities contend that enforcing laws for operating a boat while under the influence is just as important to public safety as the enforcement of drunken driving laws. For more information on the national Operation Dry Water campaign, visit http://www.operationdrywater.org/.