Many Minnesotans will take to the lakes this weekend, some likely bringing with them a few adult beverages to celebrate the holiday. With the July 4th around the corner, it will be one of the busiest boating weekends of the year.
And that’s why state and local law enforcement agencies plan to increase the number of officers on the water Friday through Sunday as part of the 10th annual Operation Dry Water campaign, a national effort to deter boating under the influence.
“Drunk boating is drunken driving. They’re one and the same,” said Lt. Adam Block of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at Thursday’s announcement on the St. Croix River in Stillwater.
In 2017, alcohol was a factor in half the 12 boating fatalities in the state. Three boaters so far have died this year, though it’s unknown if alcohol was involved.
Because boaters don’t face the same open container laws as those on the roads, many see the water as a prime place to have some beers. But with the heat, wind and waves, the effects of alcohol can be even more dangerous, Block said.
Last year, law enforcement officers nationally made 518 arrests for boating while intoxicated just during the holiday weekend. That’s a number Block said he would like to see drop.
“But we’d rather arrest someone than have to tell their family and friends, or the family and friends of an innocent victim, that they’re not coming home,” he said.
The rules on the water are generally the same as the rules of the road. The state blood alcohol limit for operating a boat or a car is 0.08. Law enforcement will stop only those exhibiting potentially dangerous behavior, such as aggressive or careless boating.
Officers also conduct field sobriety tests on rivers and lakes. Instead of walking in a straight line, those suspected of boating under the influence are asked to move their fists one at a time, in a step-like fashion, away from their body.
Joining Block on Thursday were representatives from the National Park Service, the Wisconsin DNR, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota State Patrol, which will partner with hundreds of officers from other local agencies to crack down on drunken boating this weekend.
“We’ll throw as many eggs in the basket as we can to bring that heightened awareness and sense of safety to the public,” Block said.