NARRAGANSETT BAY – The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and US Coast Guard urges boaters to be responsible and not operate their boats under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This weekend, July 5 through 7, will see heightened precautions due to large numbers of tourists and Rhode Islanders celebrating the Fourth of July out on the bay.
The agencies are announcing they're ramping up enforcement efforts as part of a national crackdown on impaired boating.
The annual Operation Dry Water campaign focuses on reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities, deterring alcohol and drug use on the water, and raising awareness of the seriousness of the problem. DEM's Division of Law Enforcement will be conducting increased patrols to specifically monitor for boaters under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
"Every year, we see boating accidents and tragedies that could have been avoided, had alcohol or drug use not been a factor," said Lieutenant Steven Criscione, boating program manager for DEM's Division of Law Enforcement. "As part of the community ourselves, we try to ensure that recreational boaters, paddlers, and anyone on our waters has a safe place to enjoy time with their family and friends.
"Alcohol use can impair a boater's judgment, balance, vision and reaction time," he continued. "That is why the RI Environmental Police is joining all 56 states and US territories to do our part in keeping boaters safe and preventing accidents related to boating under the influence."
Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for drivers because most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do operating a car, according to the Rhode Island DEM. Factors that are common to boating such as sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion can intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications.
Criscione explained that operating a boat under the influence of alcohol and or drugs has impacts both on and off the water. The majority of boaters are put their boats up on trailers, he said.
"An intoxicated boater, if undetected, could eventually get behind the wheel of a car and onto our highways – putting countless people at risk," Criscione said. "Regardless of whether you personally boat or not, we all have the potential to be impacted by an impaired boater."
Alcohol use was found to be the leading cause of recreational boating deaths in 2018, according to the US Coast Guard, with 19 percent of all recreational boating fatalities nationwide attributed to it. The same permissible blood alcohol content for operating a vehicle in Rhode Island, .08 BAC, is also applicable to those boating under the influence. Penalties and testing standards are consistent, according to Criscione.
Similar to DEM and the US Coast Guard effort to crack down on those operating under the influence, many local municipalities have also announced similar plans to closely monitor safety on the roadways this holiday weekend.