By Randy Zellers Assistant Chief of Communications
LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is asking that everyone enjoying a day on the water during the Independence Day weekend to enjoy themselves responsibly and be aware of the dangers brought about by excessive drinking while aboard a boat. To help make the weekend safe, wildlife officers throughout Arkansas are gearing up for Operation Dry Water July 2-4.
“We patrol the state’s waters year-round in Arkansas, but Operation Dry Water gives us an added opportunity to speak up about enjoying our waters safely,” said Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, Boating Law Administrator for the AGFC.
Weatherington says boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs not only carries a stiff fine, it also is grounds for a person to lose their driver’s license just as though they were ticketed for driving under the influence.
“It’s that serious of a problem that most states have this rule in place,” Weatherington said. “We want people to have fun, but we want them to be responsible so that everyone can come home with memories of great times on the water.”
According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Statistics, alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Boating while intoxicated can be even more dangerous than driving a car while intoxicated, as most boaters have less experience operating a boat. 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.
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 judgments that can lead to injuries and death as well.
Weatherington says she receives calls every year asking if it’s OK 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.