Don’t Drink and Float: Officials Urge Safe, Sober Boating Over Holiday Weekend

| July 5, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – During the extended Independence Day weekend and throughout the summer, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) waterways conservation officers (WCO) will be focusing on keeping boaters safe by keeping impaired boaters off the water.

From July 5 through July 7, WCOs will participate in Operation Dry Water, a nationally coordinated effort between law enforcement agencies, to conduct enhanced Boating Under the Influence (BUI) enforcement. Recreational boaters will notice an increase in the number of officers on the water and at recreational boating checkpoints.

In partnership with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the PFBC is working to increase boater awareness of the hazards associated with impaired boating, and to decrease the number of accidents and deaths attributed to impaired boating and other unsafe boating practices.

According to a representative of the PFBC Northwest Region, those efforts will include increased enforcement in local waterways, including the Clarion River and the Allegheny River.

“One of the problems with boating is that if there’s an issue on the water, you can’t just pull over to the side and get out of your boat. A lot of times it can be catastrophic if there’s an accident involved in boating. That’s why we focus so much on it,” the representative told

“Also, if an individual is boating under influence, they may then end up putting their boat on a trailer and going home, so there’s also the potential for driving under the influence while towing a trailer.

“That’s part of why we work on joint efforts with other law enforcement, working the water and some of the ramps to make sure people are not driving away intoxicated, either.”

There are some differences in the law when it comes to alcohol and boating versus alcohol and driving, the biggest one being open containers. While open containers are prohibited in motor vehicles on the road, boating is recognized as a recreational activity, and alcohol is not prohibited on boats.

Nevertheless, in Pennsylvania, it is illegal to operate any watercraft, powered or unpowered, while impaired, and boating under the influence is treated much the same as driving under the influence, with the blood alcohol limit for boat operators also set at .08%, the same as the limit for driving a motor vehicle.

The process when a boat is stopped for suspicion of being operated by someone under the influence is much the same, as well, with slightly different field sobriety tests preceding a possible arrest, and similar penalties for those charged with BUI.

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) Secretary Leslie S. Richards, along with representatives from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) recently held a media event at the City Island boat launch, urging safe and responsible celebration while boating.

Data from the Fish and Boat Commission shows that there were 51 boating-under-the-influence arrests in 2018, a decrease from 68 in 2017. Pennsylvania is a boating destination state, and boaters drive to and from their boating location. When an impaired boat operator gets behind the wheel to drive home, a BUI becomes a DUI.

“Alcohol impairs judgment and reaction time on the water no differently than if you were driving a car, with the additional risk of drowning,” said PA Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director Tim Schaeffer.

“Boating under the influence puts everyone at risk, including passengers and others enjoying the water.”

“Our goal is for boaters to begin each trip with a knowledge and appreciation of basic safe boating practices that includes not drinking while boating,” he added.

Last year across the state, 14 individuals died in boating accidents. Alcohol or drugs was determined to be a contributing factor in at least 3 of the cases. So far this year (2019), PFBC waterways conservation officers have arrested 12 individuals for boating under the influence.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission also offers the following tips for staying safe on the water:

  • Boat sober. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. Alcohol and drug use can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time;
  • Wear your life jacket. 85% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket; and
  • Take a boating safety education course. 71% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction, where instruction was known.

Copyright © 2021 EYT Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of the contents of this service without the express written consent of EYT Media Group, Inc. is expressly prohibited.

Category: Local News, News, State News