With the approach of the Fourth of July bringing warmer, sunnier weather, boats will soon be dotting Narragansett Bay and other Rhode Island waterways. The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and US Coast Guard urge boaters to be responsible and not operate their boats under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The agencies are announcing they’re ramping up enforcement efforts as part of a national crackdown on impaired boating.
The annual Operation Dry Water campaign focuses on reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities, deterring alcohol and drug use on the water, and raising awareness of the seriousness of the problem. DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement will be conducting increased patrols from Friday, July 3, to Sunday, July 5, monitoring for boaters under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“Every year, we see boating accidents and tragedies that could have been avoided, had alcohol or drug use not been a factor. As part of the community ourselves, our job is to ensure that recreational boaters, paddlers and anyone on our waters has a safe place to enjoy time with their family and friends,” says Lt. Michael Schipritt, Boating Program Manager for DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement. “Alcohol use can impair a boater’s judgement, balance, vision and reaction time. That is why DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement is joining all 56 states and U.S. territories to do our part in keeping boaters safe and preventing accidents related to boating under the influence.” During the three-day, heightened awareness and enforcement campaign, DEM and other law enforcement agencies nationwide will be out in force, looking for boaters who choose to boat under the influence and removing them from the water. Enhanced awareness messaging about the dangers of boating under the influence, along with an increased number of officers on the water, aim to cut down on the number of accidents and deaths due to impaired boating.
There are nearly 40,000 registered boats in Rhode Island. According to RI law, the limits (.08 blood alcohol content) and penalties are the same for driving and boating under the influence. Testing standards also are consistent. DEM Environmental Police want to remind boaters to stay safe this summer, by staying sober on the water. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. Sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion common to the boating environment intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications. US Coast Guard 2019 statistics show alcohol was the leading contributor in 23% of deaths in all fatal boating accidents, a 4% increase from 2018. During the national weekend of heightened awareness and high-visibility enforcement, boaters can expect to see more law enforcement presence and increased messaging about this dangerous and preventable crime.
In 2019 RI DEM Environmental Police Officers joined over 7,500 other officers, 736 other state and federal agencies in this 72 hour of heightened BUI enforcement.