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'Operation Dry Water' Seeks to Remove Drunk Boaters

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If you’re planning a boating excursion this weekend that includes alcohol, it’s best you leave the imbibing to those not behind the wheel.

“Operation Dry Water 2016” is set for this Friday through Sunday, June 24-26. It’s part of a nationwide crackdown on BUI – boating under the influence. FWC Lt. Seth Wagner with says being sober is part of knowing your vessel and yourself. The rule of thumb is: when in doubt of the situation, go slow.

“If you’re one of those that just needs your alcohol with you when you’re out of the water to have a good time, designate somebody that’s going to be the [boat] operator who won’t drink,” says Wagner.

According to FWC’s 2015 Boating Accident Statistical Report, there were 737 reportable boating accidents in Florida last year, resulting in 62 fatalities.

Boating under the influence laws in Florida are virtually identical to driving under the influence on the highway. And as on the road, a B-U-I conviction carries some severe penalties, including prison, fines, court costs, a criminal record, and possible loss of your vessel. 

“It would something similar to something that the Highway Patrol would do out on the highways,” Wagner says. “It’s the same standard of being .08 to be considered under the influence while operating a vessel.”

The one key difference between drunk driving and boating is that on the water, the legal blood-alcohol limit for boaters under the age of 21 is .02 – there is no such equivalent on the road.

Wagner also reminds everyone that personal flotation devices -- life jackets -- are mandatory for children age six years and under. He says there are way too many boating accidents, where both adults and children ended up in the water and PFDs were available – but not being worn.

“If you don’t have it on, it’s not going to do you a lot of good when you fall in the water,” said Wagner. “Even if you’re one of the best swimmers around, when you’re in that stressed environment – in the shock and panic – you may not swim so well, if at all.”

Today’s life preservers have evolved from the clunky, hot and uncomfortable vests you may remember. Developing technology and design have made them lighter, more comfortable, and less expensive.

Another suggestion from FWC is taking a boating safety course. They’re mandatory for those born after January 1, 1988 in order to operate a boat legally in Florida. And FWC’s Lt. Seth Wagner says even the most experienced boater can pick up a few pointers, and maybe save some money.

“A lot of insurance companies will give you a discount, because of having that course,” Wagner says. “So there’s some incentive there, not just in the safety part of it. And being better with your boat and not damaging it, there’s [also] a monetary incentive there.”

More information is available at www.operationdrywater.org.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.