Nonprofit agency works to curb drunk boating

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All too often drunk boating accidents end in tragedy.

Take for instance a crash that occurred in Ft. Lauderdale. The drunk boat operator slammed the vessel into a piling on a bridge. The crash injured the operator and killed her boyfriend.NY vehicular manslaughter

In another incident, a young man in West Virginia was reportedly using drugs and alcohol while operating the boat. The ski boat was traveling north on a lake when it crashed into an embankment on the eastern shore. All 12 young adults on the boat, including the boat operator, were injured in the crash.

Then there was the high-profile accident in New York that resulted in the first time an alleged drunk boater was indicted on a charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. In this incident, the drunk driver crashed his 25-foot speedboat into a 38-foot fishing boat, fatally striking one fisherman in the face and chest. 

These examples are just a very small sample of the hundreds of recreational boating accidents that occur on our nation’s waterways each year with alcohol as the primary contributing factor. Such incidents have remained the impetus for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ ongoing fight against boating under the influence.

*2014 USCG Recreational Boating Statistics: Alcohol + Fatalities
*2014 USCG Recreational Boating Statistics: Alcohol + Fatalities

Enforcement training

Building on the belief that the best way to reduce boating under the influence is to strengthen law enforcement capabilities on the water, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators ramped up its efforts to curb BUI by developing a BUI Enforcement and Detection course. They launched the course in the first quarter of 2004. The BUI training program continues to provide federal, state, local and tribal marine law enforcement officers with the uniform educational materials and training to effectively detect BUI violations, enforce BUI laws and prosecute BUI cases. 

NASBLA conducted its very first BUI Detection & Enforcement class in March 2004.
NASBLA conducted its very first BUI Detection & Enforcement class in March 2004.

To further aid officers on the water, in 2010 NASBLA completed the Standardized Seated Field Sobriety Test (SFST) Validation Study, a three-year project to provide officers with a validated battery of tests that can be conducted in the seated position. In 2014 NASBLA completed the first year of a multi-year field study to further validate the new seated testing standards. This seated battery is now the basis of NASBLA’s BUI training programs. With the validation of the new seated SFST battery, NASBLA expanded its BUI course offerings to include a Seated Battery Transition Training course and BUI Trainer Transition course.

signing strat_2007 plan
Then-NASBLA President Jeffrey Johnson signs the U.S. Coast Guard’s Strategic Plan of the National Recreational Boating Safety Program on March 7, 2007.

In the meantime, the U.S. Coast Guard unveiled the Strategic Plan of the National Recreational Boating Safety Program 2007-2011. NASBLA signed on as a partner, and then went to work on numerous objectives and strategies detailed in the plan for improving recreational boating safety. Staff and committee members brainstormed ways to achieve the prescribed reduction in the number of casualties in which alcohol use was either a direct or an indirect cause of the accident (Objective 6). The result was a new campaign dubbed Operation Dry Water.

Awareness campaign
First launched in the summer of 2009, the Operation Dry Water campaign was developed to increase state BUI patrols and checkpoints and, in turn, raise awareness among the boating public. As a result, the campaign would work toward reducing the national number of boating accidents and fatalities caused by or related to alcohol intoxication by boat operators and occupants.

ODW2016weekendlogoTo achieve these goals, NASBLA oversees a national coordinated weekend of boating under the influence enforcement and works with participating agencies to advertise saturation patrols and checkpoints in order to raise awareness of the dangers of BUI among the boating public.

NASBLA’s efforts to curb drinking and boating are having a positive effect on boating safety. The average percentage of fatalities related to alcohol from 2000 to 2003 was 33.75%. NASBLA conducted its first three BUI enforcement and training courses in 2004, and over the next four years the fatalities percentage dropped to 20.75%. After initiating Operation Dry Water in 2009, alcohol-related fatalities have dropped to 17%.

NASBLA and its partners are gearing up for the 2016 rendition of Operation Dry Water. The heightened awareness and enforcement weekend takes place June 24-26, 2016. This campaign takes places nationally and is made possible through the efforts of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Register to participate today!

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