JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is cracking down on impaired boaters and will be working to keep waterways safe this weekend.
During the national "Operation Dry Water" campaign officers will focus on removing impaired operators from the water and educating boaters about safety.
The Fourth of July holiday is one of the busiest boating holidays all over the U.S., including here in Florida. There are over 950,000 boats registered in the state and an estimated 1 million additional non-registered boats enjoying Florida’s waters.
It’s also the highest weekend for reportable accidents in Florida.
"The reason we do Operation Dry Water and come out enforce the way we do is because roughly last year‘s numbers roughly 20% of those reportable accidents victims can be contributed to either alcohol or drugs," Officer Lance Haskins with the Florida Fish And Wildlife Commission said.
Haskins said the FWC is just making sure everyone stays safe and makes it home.
“It’s going to be significantly more crowded when you get all the contributing factors in terms of good economy, good weather, holiday weekend,” explained Lance Haskins, FWC spokesman. “The increase we see as far as just people on the water is going to be pretty significant.”
Boaters should know that operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal and can lead to serious injuries and consequences. In Florida, it is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood alcohol content level of .08 or higher -- the same as it is to operate a vehicle.
“As law enforcement, it is our job to do all we can to ensure the safety of our recreational boaters and paddlers,” said Maj. Robert Rowe, FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section Leader. “The accidents and tragedies that happen because individuals choose to drive impaired, on land or on the water, are preventable. We’re joining other agencies across the country to keep boaters safe and prevent accidents related to BUI.”
If a person decides to take alcohol on their voyage, it is important to designate an operator who isn’t drinking alcohol and will remain sober to ensure everyone gets home safely. The FWC encourages boaters to enjoy the boating season to its full extent by boating sober, wearing a life jacket and taking a boating education course.
“Obviously, we understand everyone is going to be going out having a good time, and we support that," Haskins said. "We just want to make sure everyone is safe and makes it home, so if you intend to drink, designate someone who is going to be able to get you home safe and not be under the influence."
FWC also reminds boaters to have all the required safety equipment on their boat, including life jackets for every person on board, fire extinguishers, and a sound-producing device.