DNR prioritizes stopping drunk boaters this weekend
WILLMAR -- July Fourth is a holiday because it represents independence, and, in Minnesota, celebrating the holiday often means getting out on the lake.
WILLMAR - July Fourth is a holiday because it represents independence, and, in Minnesota, celebrating the holiday often means getting out on the lake.
Celebration lends itself to adult beverage consumption, which can inhibit safety - especially during a high-traffic boating weekend such as this one.
State Department of Natural Resources officers and other law enforcement officers will be out to ensure laws are being followed, and safety precautions are being encouraged on the water this weekend.
Alcohol consumption is chief among those concerns, said Debbie Munson Badini, the DNR’s boat and water safety education coordinator.
“It’s a priority for (DNR) officers and for the county water patrol officers to be looking for people who are being intoxicated and enforcing those laws,” Munson Badini said.
Jackie Glaser, a lieutenant with the DNR Division of Enforcement, said that extra officers patrol during the weekend of July Fourth, as well as the weekends before and after the holiday.
That additional enforcement kicked off last weekend with the DNR’s statewide “Operation Dry Water,” an effort to immobilize drunk boaters.
“We’re hoping that message came out and struck people,” Glaser said.
Boat passengers and drivers can legally drink, but the drivers must comply with the 0.08 percent blood alcohol level that is also the automobile threshold when determining intoxication.
Boaters who are driving while impaired are charged with a misdemeanor for first offenses, but drunken drivers who are also transporting children under 16 earn themselves a gross misdemeanor or a felony charge for a first offense, which includes mandatory jail time.
Operators who are charged with a gross misdemeanor or felony also face a loss of driver’s license, larger fines and forfeiture of boat and trailer.
“They’re some pretty serious penalties, and we’re really proud of that in Minnesota - that we have the ability to do that,” Munson Badini said.
Munson Badini said that she would like to see fewer people drinking on boats, especially the operators.
She believes that sober boater designations would solve many issues on the water.
In the last five years in Minnesota, 42 percent of boating fatalities involved alcohol.
“When you’re driving a boat, you might not have as much experience as you do (with a car),” Munson Badini said. “There’s a lot more elements at play when you’re on the water, with other people around, there’s no lanes (and) there’s just a lot of people going a lot of directions.”
While passengers are legally allowed to drink, Munson Badini said they still risk danger by doing so. If they fall off the boat either by accident or to swim, impaired decision-making could yield disastrous results.
Those consequences could possibly be less severe if that person is wearing a life jacket, though. Children younger than age 10 are required to wear life jackets on a boat or pontoon unless it is docked or anchored for swimming. People ages 10 and up are not required to wear a life jacket while on a boat, but Munson Badini said that they should anyway.
“Most people out on the water are not wearing life jackets,” she said. “That is the number one thing that would help prevent serious accidents and fatalities on the water is if people would wear their life jackets.”
In Minnesota, between 70 and 80 percent of people who die in boating accidents are not wearing life jackets, including 13 of the 14 deaths in 2014, according to the DNR.
Munson Badini said that she has seen parents secure their kids on a boat using a car seat and that practice is not safe. If a car seat flew overboard, it would flip upside down and force its passenger underwater.
There are special life jackets made for infants that help turn them face up in the water, but any baby under 16 pounds should stick to the sandbox.