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Destin Hosts Kickoff to Operation Dry Water 2024

Multi-agency, multi-state law enforcement effort to deter boating under the influence.

Destin Hosts Kickoff to Operation Dry Water 2024
“Operation Dry Water” is a multi-agency effort aimed to decrease the number of boater-impaired accident

Flat calm summer boating weekends are in full effect around Florida, but if history is any indication, so too are alcohol- and drug-related boating accidents.

Law enforcement agencies in Florida and beyond are ramping up efforts to deter boating under the influence (BUI) through education and vigilant patrol. It’s called "Operation Dry Water."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement hosted the kickoff to this national weekend of BUI detection and enforcement aimed at reducing the number incidents and fatalities. This year, the kickoff was held on July 3 at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Destin.

Agencies from all U.S. states and territories participate in Operation Dry Water July 4-6

Operation Dry Water is a multi-agency effort to diminish the number of boater-impaired accidents.

Alcohol and other substance use and abuse is the leading contributing factor in recreational boating deaths, sources say. Summer, too, is the peak season of substance-related boating accidents. Just as in auto accidents, high-traffic areas are the most common locations of serious boat accidents, and these high-traffic areas receive the most attention from law enforcement.

people standing in a group
“Operation Dry Water” kickoff was held on July 3 in Destin.

Launched in 2009 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in partnership with the United States Coast Guard, Operation Dry Water has been a highly successful campaign, drawing public attention to the dangers of BUI. Since the inception of the campaign in 2009, law enforcement officers have removed 6,869 BUI operators from the nation’s waterways and made contact with over 2.8 million boaters during the annual three-day weekend. The campaign continues to make a significant impact on boater safety.

In 2023, there were 13 fatal boating accidents in Florida, and at least 24 percent of them were boater-impaired situations.

Members of the various law enforcement agencies at the kickoff stressed that the program does not only look at operators of boats. Seriously impaired passengers also present a danger. They can fall overboard, slip and take a serious fall on the boat, or cause distractions to the operator while underway.

As FWC Officer Chris Boley says, “Alcohol and boats don’t mix.”

The Purpose of the Program

Boley, Public Information Officer for the FWC Northwest region says, “Operation Dry Water hopes to get the word out—no alcohol on vessels, no boating under the influence, and safe boating, especially on holiday weekends.”

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Boley continues, “Operation Dry Water doesn’t stop after the holidays, though. This is a year-long program to promote boating safety and safe operation.”

Just as in dry-land driver impairment checks, on-the-water law enforcement personnel are equipped to do field sobriety tests for boaters. The legal limit of alcohol in tested boaters is .08—the same as automobile drivers.

If a boater is stopped and tests positive for impaired operation of a boat, what happens next depends on the circumstance. If another person is aboard who can safely operate the boat, the non-impaired operator can take over. However, in an accident or if there is no other operator, the boat may be towed by a commercial towing company.

A Program Good for Boaters and the Families of Boaters

All of the law enforcement personnel and also the representative of MADD—Mothers Against Drunk Driving—who attended the kick-off in Destin said the same thing: A serious boating accident affects not only the boat operator, but also those who care for hurt or killed boaters.

Operation Dry Water is a year-round boating under the influence awareness and enforcement campaign. Operation Dry Water's heightened awareness and enforcement three-day weekend takes place annually around the Fourth of July, a holiday unfortunately known for drinking and boating, and deadly incidents.

Paul Barnard of the U.S. Coast Guard summed it up very well when he said in his greeting presentation: “Boater-impaired accidents, injuries, and deaths are all 100 percent preventable.”




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