The ideal summer weekend for many Minnesotans is spent on the lake or the river, perhaps sipping a few adult beverages with friends.
Starting Friday, the state Department of Natural Resources is stepping up efforts to make sure that a few don’t become too many.
On Wednesday, DNR conservation officer Adam Block announced the kickoff of Operation Dry Water, a national campaign to deter drinking and boating.
“We just want to get the message out,” he said. “If you’re going to be on the water, you need to wear your life jacket and you need to stay sober.”
Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in Minnesota and nationally, Block said. Of the state’s 14 fatal boat accidents in 2014, alcohol was a factor in six of them. Over the past several years, alcohol has been a factor in about 30 percent of all fatal boating accidents across the state.
While boaters might think they have more leeway on the waves than on the roads, the federal blood alcohol limit for operating a boat is .08, the same as for operating a motor vehicle. Just like on the highways, Block said, the use of alcohol while boating can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time.
The penalties for boating under the influence are also as hefty as they are for motorists, he said.
Penalties include fines, jail time and loss of boating — and perhaps driving — privileges. Intoxicated boaters with prior BWI convictions who have a child under 16 on board, or who have a blood alcohol limit of .20 or higher, may be charged with a gross misdemeanor or felony and be subject to larger fines, mandatory jail time, the loss of their driver’s license and the forfeiture of their boat and trailer.
“People, for some reason, don’t think that boating while intoxicated is as bad as driving while intoxicated,” Block said. “But the consequences are the same in that boat as for that pickup.”
The DNR and a number of county sheriffs plan to increase patrols starting Friday and running through Sunday, Block said. Partner agencies include the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office, the Scott County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard.