Wildlife officers throughout Arkansas and the United States are gearing up for Operation Dry Water – a weekend of increased enforcement throughout the nation to prevent instances of boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
This year’s Operation Dry Water runs through July 2.
Arkansans heading to the water with cooler in tow would be smart to drink in moderation, as the penalty for boating under the influence in Arkansas includes losing one’s driver’s license.
Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, boating law administrator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said this penalty has become more common throughout the U.S. and may be causing a decline in alcohol abuse on the water.
“The combination of increased enforcement, stiffer penalties and added educational efforts may be working,” Weatherington said. “Boating under the influence citations have declined each year since 2012.”
According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics 2016, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Boating while intoxicated can be even more dangerous that driving a car while intoxicated, as most boaters have less experience operating a boat than they do operating a car. Boats don’t have brakes, and slower responses to a sudden danger can be the difference between life and death.
Weatherington says the effects of alcohol also are magnified by the conditions boating creates.
“The sun, heat, wind and motion all intensify alcohol’s impact on a person,” Weatherington said. “Someone who could enjoy a beer or two in the air conditioning at home or in a restaurant and not feel any effects may become impaired by the same amount of alcohol onboard a boat in the summer sun.”
Weatherington says the added impact of alcohol can be a danger to passengers as well as drivers. Although not illegal, passengers who consume too much alcohol can make poor judgements that can lead to injuries and death as well.
“We want people to go out and have a good time on the water, but we also want them to use good judgement,” Weatherington said. “Holiday weekends can be very crowded, and there may be a lot of people out there that aren’t extremely experienced at piloting a boat. An accident or fatality isn’t any fun for anyone.”
Weatherington says she receives calls every year asking if it’s okay to have alcohol on a boat at all. In most cases it’s fine to have an alcoholic beverage onboard, but people should pay attention to the county they are boating in.
“Dry counties are still dry, even on the water,” Weatherington said. “Sheriff’s departments can and will enforce those regulations just as if they were on land.”
Operation Dry Water was launched in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Since its inception, the campaign has helped remove 2,520 operators who were boating under the influence from America’s waters, making them safer for all to enjoy.