Increased efforts to keep Minnesota’s waterways safe from boaters under the influence of drugs and alcohol are on tap, with hundreds of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and other public safety personnel planning extra patrols July 2-4.
The extra attention is part of Operation Dry Water, a nationwide campaign to highlight the dangers of boating under the influence of drugs and alcohol and call attention to the heavy penalties associated with boating while intoxicated (BWI).
While forecasted warm weather will make the water an appealing place to be over the long Fourth of July weekend, officials warn boaters to choose something other than alcohol when they get thirsty. Across the nation, including in Minnesota, BWI is the leading contributing factor in boating accidents and fatalities. In 2020, nine of the 16 boating fatalities – more than 56 percent – in Minnesota involved alcohol, an increase from the six-year average of 44 percent.
Operation Dry Water coincides with the Fourth of July holiday weekend, when waterways are particularly busy and BWI-related injuries and deaths tend to spike.
“We have absolutely no tolerance for boaters who choose to operate while under the influence. They endanger their own lives, but also the lives of every other boater on the water,” said Lt. Adam Block, DNR Enforcement boating law administrator. “The penalties associated with boating under the influence have never been higher, but they pale in comparison to losing your life or ending someone else’s life because of a choice you made.”
Minnesota’s BWI laws are among the strongest in the country, and a relatively new law means people convicted of drinking and driving – whether they’re driving a boat, motor vehicle or recreational vehicle – lose their privilege to operate any of them.
The majority of fatal boating accidents turn deadly because people don’t have on a life jacket. Intoxication often is what causes them to end up in the water in the first place. The legal blood alcohol limit for boaters is .08, but public safety officials encourage boaters to leave alcohol on shore and boat sober on “dry water.”
“Planning ahead can alleviate all of the issues associated with boating under the influence,” Block said. “If you’re going to partake while you’re on the water, make sure you’ve lined up a sober ride – both on the boat and on the way home.”
Operation Dry Water activities are sponsored by the National Association of Boating Law Administrators in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard.