Boat sober or get pulled over — Operation Dry Water launches this weekend

If you're caught operating a boat under the influence, you'll be arrested and given a $2,050 dollar ticket.

BURBANK, Wash. — As the Fourth of July holiday gets closer, officials across the country are preparing to launch Operation Dry Water — a weekend-long campaign focused on boating-under-the-influence (BUI) awareness and enforcement.

The campaign first launched in 2009. Boaters will notice an increase in patrols across Walla Walla County and Tri-Cities from July 2 through 4, a news release said.

Chief Deputy Richard Schram with the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office said it’s not about enforcement but rather educating boaters on safety.

“Please have a sober operator. Please don’t be out there drunk,” Schram said. “If you’re drunk out there operating a boat, not only are you endangering your life and the people in your boat but everybody else around you.”

If you’re caught operating a boat while drinking, you’ll be arrested and given a $2,050 dollar ticket.

Schram said the July 4th weekend in 2020 resulted in over 600 boater arrests nationwide.

“If we suspect that you’re an impaired boater, we’re going to start to do a little investigating,” Schram said. “Something that people don’t think about is if you come out the water drunk you’re going to put your boat on the trailer and drive drunk. Now, we’ve got a person pulling a big heavy boat on the highway that’s drunk. It just gets worse.”

Officers use four different tests to prove sobriety. The first includes tracking the tip of a pen with your eyes while the second involves putting the tip of your finger onto your nose repeatedly. The third test makes you move your hands in different motions, almost like playing the game patty cake, while the fourth uses more complicated hand motions.

“If we feel like, after the sobriety tests that you’re impaired, you’re going to be arrested,” Schram said, noting the zero-tolerance policy when it comes to drinking while boating.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boating under the influence is the leading known contributing factor in fatal
recreational boating accidents.

“On the water, there are a lot of stressors that happen to your body. The sun is one of them. The heat coming from the sun is another. The vibration from your boat being in and out of the water all day,” Schram said. “If you drove alcohol on top of that, the stressors are magnified and you’ll actually feel intoxicated quicker on the water than you would somewhere else.”

Schram said while these laws apply only to people driving the boat, it’s important to stay safe and hydrated while on the water.

“You can have open containers on the boat. As far as safety’s concerned, number one we’re looking for life jackets. On the boat, you have to have a life jacket for everybody that fits. It’s gotta be the right size and we’re going to check those things,” Schram said. “On a weekend like this like last weekend when it’s really hot out, we want you to have a lot of water on board and stay hydrated.”

According to the release: In Washington state, it is illegal to use any substance that impairs a person’s ability to operate a boat. The law applies to all boats, including kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, rowboats, and inflatable fishing rafts. Some key things for boaters to know:

  • State law allows law enforcement officers to require boaters suspected of operating a boat while intoxicated
    to submit to a breath or blood test.
  • Refusing to submit to a test is a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $2,050.
  • The penalty for operating a boat under the influence is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine
    of $5,000 and 364 days in jail.
  • Additionally, a BUI is considered a prior offense if there are later convictions for driving under the influence
    (DUI).
  • Just like operating a vehicle, the Per Se Limit for a blood alcohol concentration is.08% while operating a
    vessel.

For more information on BUI laws in Washington, click here