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Operation Dry Water launches in Destin to crack down on impaired boating

Operation Dry Water launched in Destin, Florida, with law enforcement agencies promoting boating safety and cracking down on impaired boating. The campaign aims to reduce alcohol and drug-related incidents during the July 4th weekend.
Operation Dry Water

On July 3, 2024, a coalition of law enforcement agencies and boating safety organizations gathered at U.S. Coast Guard Station Destin to launch Operation Dry Water, a nationwide campaign aimed at reducing alcohol and drug-related boating incidents and fatalities.

  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hosted the kickoff event for the annual initiative, which will feature heightened awareness and enforcement efforts from July 4-6 across the United States.

“Florida is the boating capital of the world, with over one million registered vessels,” said Col. Brian Smith, Director of Law Enforcement for FWC. “During Operation Dry Water weekend, law enforcement officers will increase patrols statewide looking for any signs of reckless boating or boater impairment.”

Smith emphasized that operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal on all bodies of water, carrying consequences that range from criminal charges to serious injuries or death. In Florida, the legal blood alcohol limit for boating mirrors that of driving a vehicle: 0.08.

Lt. Col. Rob Rowe, Deputy Director of Law Enforcement for FWC, focused on the critical importance of proper safety equipment. “Make sure you know where your life jackets are, that they’re accessible and serviceable, and that you have the right size for the intended wearer on the vessel,” Rowe advised.

Taylor Kirsche, Communications Director for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), highlighted the impact of Operation Dry Water since its inception in 2009.

  •  “Over 6,500 impaired operators have been removed during Operation Dry Water weekends from our nation’s waterways, preventing dangerous and potentially tragic consequences,” Kirsche reported.

Local law enforcement has seen the fruits of these efforts firsthand.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden shared encouraging news Wednesday morning. “That number decreased significantly from 2022 to 2023 by 77%,” Aden announced, attributing the dramatic drop to increased enforcement and the growing use of livery vessels with hired captains.

Destin Mayor Bobby Wagner emphasized the importance of water safety within the community. “We’re a destination, we’re a military community, we’re a community of fishermen, livery vessels, and everyone in between that likes to get on the water,” Wagner stated. “This water is what connects us all together.”

Kristen Allen, Area Executive Director with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), stressed that “BUI is DUI.” She urged boaters to wait until they are on land and in a safe location before consuming alcohol, emphasizing that the consequences of impaired boating extend far beyond legal ramifications.

NASBLA’s Boating Under the Influence Program Manager, Todd Radabaugh, discussed advancements in detecting boating under the influence (BUI). He detailed the development of field sobriety tests that can be administered in a seated position on boats. 

  • “Detecting impairment is not rocket science,” Radabaugh explained, “but officers need a scientifically validated set of tools in order to do that and testify in court.”

Paul Barnard of the U.S. Coast Guard shared the story of Audrey Higgins, killed by an impaired boater four years ago to the day. “When you see that one in a statistic, beyond it being completely preventable, it’s so much more than one,” Barnard said. He referenced a poster displaying photos of Audrey and her family, illustrating the profound and lasting impact of such tragedies.

Operation Dry Water

Throughout the weekend, law enforcement agencies will be conducting increased patrols and BUI checkpoints. The Coast Guard, FWC, and local sheriff’s offices will be out in force, not just to enforce the law, but to educate boaters and prevent tragedies before they occur.

  • Col. Smith offered closing remarks that encapsulated the spirit of Operation Dry Water. “We want people to get out this weekend and enjoy the weekend. We want them to be out on the water,” he said. “All that we ask is that you make those good decisions that I spoke of earlier. Don’t make decisions that lead to this kind of tragedy.”

The message was clear: enjoy the holiday, but do so responsibly. Designate a sober operator, wear life jackets, and take boating safety courses to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the water this Fourth of July weekend.

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