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Boaters beware: 'Operation Dry Water' to crack down on drunk operators

The legal limits on the water are the same as with impaired driving on land, and so are the penalties.

STILLWATER, Minn. — There will be a few more boats on Minnesota's most heavily-used lakes this holiday weekend, looking for operators who have had a few too many.

The Minnesota DNR is partnering up with law enforcement agencies to conduct "Operation Dry Water," a national campaign and crackdown aimed at getting drunk boaters off the state's lakes and rivers. Between Friday and Monday, extra patrols will be on the water looking for people at the helm who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Statistics show more than half of deadly boating accidents in Minnesota each year involve alcohol. The DNR says that in 2020, nine of the 16 boating fatalities – more than 56 percent – involved alcohol, an increase from the six-year average of 44 percent. 

Here are some of the impacts of drinking too much while boating: 

  • Impairment of a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time
  • Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion —“stressors” common to the boating environment— intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications
  • Alcohol use can increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion.
  • Alcohol is dangerous for passengers too. Intoxication can cause slips, falls over board and other dangerous accidents.
  • If you boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol you are endangering your life and the lives of others.

In Minnesota the legal limit for operating a boat or motorized watercraft is .08, the same as it is for driving a vehicle. State law says if you are convicted of DWI - regardless of whether it's in a vehicle, boat or RV - you lose your privileges to operate all three. 

In fact, a first time offense could result in up to 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and suspension of boating rights for 90 days. Penalties for repeat offenders or enhanced violations increase, and could include forfeiture of your vessel. 

DNR officials, along with water patrol personnel from Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington Counties, and other law enforcement agencies, will hold a press conference Thursday ahead of the July 4 holiday. They will talk about the crackdown, and the potential impacts on the lives of those busted for drunk boating.  

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