It’s not just about making arrests. Law enforcement officers say every chance they get to talk to boaters can be an educational experience.
This might make the numbers climb.
Each summer, waterways conservation officers and other law enforcement personnel from around the country take part in “Operation Dry Water.” It’s a nationwide effort to look for boaters operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“The campaign’s mission and the mission of law enforcement involved, is to raise awareness about the dangers of boating under the influence of both drugs and alcohol and to facilitate heightened boating under the influence enforcement just before a holiday known for drinking, boating, and fatal accidents,” reads a press release.
The timing of the effort has come into question, though.
Last year it was held on June 24-26. Officers from 538 federal, state and local agencies participated, across every U.S. state and territory.
But here’s the thing.
In Pennsylvania, for example, waterways conservation officers are by contract required to work the following weekend, which centers around July 4. The result is many take the week before – the week of Operation Dry Water – off, said Corey Britcher, chief of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s law enforcement bureau.
There was still a lot of participation in the effort. Seventy-five Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission officers – some full-time, others deputies – took part, Britcher said. Twenty officers from other agencies joined in.
Together, they contacted 1,789 vessels and handed out 852 warnings, 226 boating citations and 137 non-boating citations, he said.
Most importantly, they detected seven BUI – or boating under the influence — cases.
“There was an emphasis to get impaired boaters and impaired drivers off the road,” Britcher said.
But the feeling was that they missed an opportunity, he added. The July 4 weekend is the busiest boating weekend of the year. Putting officers on the water then, Britcher said, might lead to even better results.
National organizers of the event are buying in. Britcher said the 2017 Operation Dry Water will be held over the holiday weekend, from June 30-July 2.
He expects participation among officers will go way up this year.
In the meantime, this past year’s effort – on a national scale – led to lots of contact with boaters, both good and bad.
According to Dry Water organizers, 6,196 law enforcement officers made contact with more than 130,000 boaters and made 367 arrests for boating under the influence – counting drugs and alcohol — over the three days.
Officers also issued 18,569 citations and safety warnings, made 55,141 vessel contacts and talked with 131,054 boaters.