Opinion: Drinking & Driving

Boating Under the Influence

On the road or on the water, you’re headed nowhere fast while impaired. Alcohol use is the leading known contributor in recreational boater fatalities as well as a primary factor in accidents and injuries on the water1. Operation Dry Water is dedicated to raising awareness and educating recreational boaters about the dangers of operating a boat under the influence. Since the launch of Operation Dry Water, there has been a 27% decrease in recreational boater deaths where alcohol use was the primary contributing factor2.

In 2009, in partnership with the United States Coast Guard, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) launched Operation Dry Water. The goal of the Operation Dry Water campaign is to raise awareness about the dangers of operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In addition to the year-round awareness campaign, NASBLA coordinates a national heightened enforcement weekend where officers in every U.S. state and territory are out in force, talking to boaters one-on-one and removing impaired operators from our nation’s waterways.

Operation Dry Water also works to assist states in training their officers in detecting and enforcing boating under the influence laws by providing information about the seated battery of standardized field sobriety testing.

Before the validation of the seated field sobriety tests, highway sobriety techniques like “walk-the-line” and the “walk-and-turn” were the only testing standards that marine law enforcement officers had available to them. Now there is a seated testing standard that makes it easier for officers to identify impairment on the water and enforce BUI laws―which are continuously becoming more reflective of laws associated with driving under the influence (DUI). According to federal law, it is illegal to operate a boat with a blood alcohol content (BAC) over 0.08%, the same as it is for operating a car on the road.

There are certain stressors that make consuming alcohol on the water more dangerous because the effects of alcohol on a person are magnified compared to the effects of consuming alcohol on land. Sun, wind, noise, and vibrations of the engine are stressors that intensify the effects of alcohol when on the water. They can increase impairment and the risk of being involved in a boating accident.

Thanks to the dedication of law enforcement officers across the country and those who work diligently on national recreational boating safety awareness campaigns such as Operation Dry Water, public tolerance for drunk boaters is dropping as people become educated and aware of the serious dangers associated with operating a vessel impaired. To have a good day on the water with friends and family, it is important to practice safe boating behavior while enjoying your time on the water.


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