"Dry water" may sound akin to "government organization" or "bureaucratic efficiency," but this weekend's Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Law Enforcement Division Operation Dry Water is no joking matter.
"We want people to be safe and have fun while boating recreationally," LDWF Boating Law Administrator Lt. Col. Jeff Mayne said. "Alcohol use has become one of the leading contributing factors in fatal recreational boating crash incidents."
Agents will be on the water in force June 22-24 looking for people who are not following boating safety or operating a boat with a blood alcohol content exceeding the state limit of .08 percent.
Captain Richie McCarthy of LDWF Enforcement Region 1 said that he hopes Dry Water will create better awareness, but that his agents enforce boating safety and alcohol laws equally rigorously year round.
"We're always out there patrolling, keeping the waterways safe," he said. "There's several things we'll be looking for people to be safe. There's a lot of safety items you need to make sure you've got straightened out before you hit the water."
As an example, McCarthy mentioned that an adequate number of personal floatation devices should be present in a boat. And everyone, especially children, should be wearing them when the boat is under way.
He also emphasized the need for alcohol safety.
"This year, we've seen an increase in DWI arrests on the water," McCarthy said. "We've had approximately 10 in the past two and a half weeks.
"Drinking on the water is an environment a lot different than in a vehicle," he continued. "You've got wind, you've got waves, you've got no painted lines like you do on the highway, submerged objects, trees and a lot of things that could cause hazards without alcohol involved. When you mix alcohol in that, it just makes it that much worse."
According to LDWF, intoxication can impair judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. It can also increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion.
Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion can intensify the debilitating effects of alcohol, illegal drugs and some prescription medications as well.
McCarthy said a DWI on the water carries the same penalties and fines as on the road (RS 14:98).
Loss of driver's license and boating privileges for a time period specified by the judge in the case, a fine of $300 to $1,000 and up to six months in jail for a first offense, $750 to $1,000 and 30 days to six months in jail for a second and $5,000 and between one and five years in jail with or without hard labor for a third.
Whether on the road, on the water or in the air, each offense of operating a moveable while intoxicated counts towards total offenses.
McCarthy said those who want to drink should do the same as with a car.
"We encourage everybody if you are going to have alcohol in your boat," he said. "Be sure your operator is sober. Get a designated driver for your boat, just like your vehicle."
LDWF agents issued 108 DWI citations to boat operators in 2011, with 10 issued during last year's Operation Dry Water weekend.
Louisiana had 36 fatalities from boating crash incidents in 2011 with five of those listing alcohol as a primary cause. Nationwide, statistics from 2011 reveal that 16 percent of all boat incident fatalities were a direct result of alcohol or drug use.
"There will be arrests this weekend and some boaters will face the consequences of operating a boat while impaired," said Mayne. "But we'd much rather arrest someone than to have to tell their friends and family they're never coming back."
Operation Dry Water was started in 2009 and is a joint program involving the LDWF/LED, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the U.S. Coast Guard. Visit www.operationdrywater.org for more information.