Friday, January 19, 2018

Boat Sober, Save Lives

July 8, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 


boat sober 1

boat sober 2Once we’re out on the water, our ear-locked shoulders relax and our oxygen levels become invigorated. Yet time spent boating could become more carefree if we were confident that other vessel operators were sober.

Inebriation is the chief contributing factor in boating fatalities, but public service announcements and safety-conscious articles don’t seem to get through to boat pilots who irresponsibly believe that alcohol and boating go hand-in-hand. Such rash behavior endangers their safety and risks the lives of those aboard — along with those unlucky enough to be in their vicinity.

boat sober 3All alcohol and certain legal and illegal drugs lessen sharpness of vision, balance, and judgment while slowing reaction time. Intense sun, winds, engine (and generator) vibration, and the rolling motion of a vessel further diminish capacity.

“Being intoxicated on the water is especially dangerous,” says Sergeant John Andrejack, commanding officer of Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol and vice chair of the East End Marine Task Force. “When you’re on a boat and there are boating stressors on you, it creates a phenomenon called ‘boater’s fatigue’ where the wind, sun glare, vibration of water, and sea-spray create a phenomenon that’s similar to being under the influence.”

boat sober 4Law enforcement authorities know that mixing boating and alcohol poses a grave danger. That’s why Operation Dry Water (ODW) was started in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard. And that’s why all law enforcement personnel will be out on the water on the “heightened awareness weekend” Friday, June 26 through Sunday, June 28, stopping and arresting boaters suspected of boating under the influence (BUI).

So what happens after the designated weekend of ODW ends? Nothing changes on behalf of law enforcement, according to John C. Fetterman, deputy executive director of NASBLA, “There’s a lot of misconceptions about Operation Dry Water. People think it is one weekend of the year but we’re really making an effort to make it a yearlong campaign to raise awareness. It’s an awareness campaign of the risks associated with operating under the influence.”

Andrejack concurs. Unless boaters eliminate alcohol and impactful pharmaceuticals from their boating day, arrests will continue. “There’s a new series of sobriety tests all of the marine officers have been trained in,” he advises. “They are now trained in a new series of tests that can be done in a seated position on a boat. They involve touching your finger to your nose, touching your fingertips, clapping your hands. All can be done from a seated position. They can be done immediately, which makes it much more effective.”

boat sober 5A BUI arrest isn’t something to be taken lightly, warns Andrejack. “You face the same consequences as you would with a DWI on land. In Suffolk County we have an asset forfeiture law where you could have your boat confiscated and seized because of the arrest.”

Joel Fuoco, a Nassau County Police Marine Bureau officer, adds, “Potentially, an operator can lose operating privileges for up to six months and the vessel’s registration may be suspended by the court.”

Encounters with law enforcement can take place anytime and anywhere, cautions Sergeant John Vahey of the Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau. “We have officers on the water 24/7 trained in the recognition of intoxicated operators. There are several ways we can come across it. We may set up checkpoints at certain times where we will stop vessels systematically. Those aren’t announced — we just set them up. We may also stop a vessel for enforcement if we observe a violation of the navigation law and safety.”

Disregarding any proper vessel operating and/or navigation regulations may also attract the attention of officers, notes Vahey. “Rules of the road can end up in a vessel stop.”

boat sober 6Robert Clifford, Director of Communication for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, breaks down further what happens at a stop. “The operator of the boat is interviewed. If there are signs of intoxication — glassy/bloodshot eyes, the odor of alcohol, slurred speech, etc., the operator is compelled to perform field sobriety tests.

“Some of the criminal charges levied against offenders during this program include driving/boating while intoxicated, driving/boating while ability impaired, aggravated unlicensed driving, possession of cocaine, illegal possession of painkillers, and possession of marijuana,” says Clifford.

Fetterman knows that although “most boaters think a couple of six packs are part of boating’s recreation and relaxation,” it’s the obligation of law enforcement to arrest those alleged to be under the influence and remove them from the waterways. “I’ve responded to too many accidents. I’ve recovered too many bodies; that’s why I’m passionate about it. There’s nothing worse than having to go on a beautiful summer day to tell families their child passed away from going out and drinking. Law enforcement has to face that.”

boat sober 7ODW has shown a significant impact in reducing the number of alcohol-related accidents and fatalities since 2009. The amount of boating fatalities with alcohol named as a contributing factor has decreased three percent in the United States though it continues to be the leading known contributing factor in recreational boating death. During the three earmarked days of the 2014 campaign 585 local, state, and federal agencies joined forces to make 318 BUI arrests.

While that’s progress, Fetterman knows that it is not enough. “Drunk boating and boating under the influence is more than a careless choice made by a few isolated boaters. Adults and children are killed every year in accidents on the water caused by boaters who were operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

Law enforcement officers don’t want to dampen anyone’s (safe) fun on the water. “We want everyone to enjoy the water. We live on an island. But because we live on an island, water safety should be important to everyone,” Andrejack says. Fetterman agrees, noting, “Boating is the most wonderful recreational activity on earth.” Nevertheless, no person’s safety should be jeopardized by another’s disregard for sensible and sober boating. That’s why Fetterman has a stern warning for law-breakers. “There are armies of law enforcers out there looking to reduce boating accidents, injuries, and fatalities, so if you boat drunk, you’re going to jail.”

For more information:  and

By Lita Smith-Mines


Video and a boater’s online pledge to stay sober

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