It's illegal in Minnesota to get behind the wheel of your 140-horsepower commuter car, pop open a beer and go for a spin. But it's legal to hop into your 250-horsepower runabout, twist open a brew and cruise a lake.
But that doesn't make it any safer -- or smarter.
State officials say last year that a third of the 12 fatal boating accidents involved alcohol, as did at least 14 percent of the 73 nonfatal boating accidents. "And a large percentage of our drownings also involve alcohol,'' said Department of Natural Resources Capt. Greg Salo.
This weekend, state conservation officers, county sheriff's deputies and coast guard officers will be out in force as part of a national effort to crack down on boaters who are under the influence of alcohol. The goal is to reduce the number of alcohol- and drug- related accidents and fatalities on the water.
"We'll have more people in the field Friday, Saturday and Sunday,'' Salo said. The national event is called Operation Dry Water. "It calls attention to the issue,'' he said.
In Minnesota, boat operators whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds .08 -- the same as for driving a motor vehicle -- can be cited for boating under the influence of alcohol. Officials said those caught can expect severe penalties, including heavy fines, loss of boat-operating privileges and even jail time. Convictions go on a person's auto driving record and insurance policy.
Still, don't expect any laws prohibiting boaters from legally cracking open a cold one while on the water.
"There's no state in the country where drinking and boating isn't allowed,'' said Tim Smalley, DNR boat and water safety specialist.
The DNR recommends that people avoid drinking alcohol while boating. And Minnesota's boaters are getting the message that alcohol and boating are a poor mix. In recent years, the percentage of boating fatalities that involve alcohol has dropped from about 50 percent to around 30 percent.
Last year, all 50 states participated in Operation Dry Water. Nationwide over that three-day weekend, 40,127 boats and 66,472 boaters were contacted by officers, 322 boating-under-the-influence arrests were made -- including six in Minnesota -- and 11,693 citations and warnings were issued.
Doug Smith • firstname.lastname@example.org