Safety on the water

All those planning on a party in slow motion out on some open body of water this holiday weekend should take heed that authorities are cracking down on intoxicated navigators.

Operation Dry Water began Friday and will run locally through next Sunday. The program is a national boating under the influence (BUI) enforcement program.

Local authorities and state Fish and Boat Commission officials held a press conference Friday morning at the Susquehanna State Park boat launch to educate the public about the dangers of drinking and motorboating.

“We’ve got 86,000 miles of streams and rivers, over 2,000 man-made lakes, and over 3,000 registered boats in the state,” commission Executive Director John Arway said.

“We’ve got lots of local boat traffic and some destination boat traffic – that’s plenty to keep a lot of law enforcement officers busy,” Conservation Officer Emmett Kyler added. “Along with alcohol, there’s a multitude of other stresses on an individual when boating – the wave action, the wind, the sun, fatigue comes up a lot quicker out on the water.”

Recently, after a fatal accident near Lock Haven, the legislature made causing a fatal accident while driving a boat intoxciated a crime equal to causing a fatal accident while driving a car intoxicated, Arway said.

The same limits and penalties apply to drunken boat operators as those who drive under the influence, and officers on the water and watching from shore will have breathalyzers.

“This effort ties in with ours,” said Chief William Solomon, county DUI task force coordinator. “People drink on the river and then get out and drive home, go to a bar to get more beer, go to picnics.”

Solomon said his task force will be setting up checkpoints and making roving patrols all throughout the holiday weekend.

“We cited 65 people last year for BUI, but only seven so far this year,” Arway said. “We want to keep that number down – boats are dangerous. Boats don’t have brakes.”