By Edited Press Release
Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR
Conservation Police Officers (CPOs) with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) were very busy over the Independence Day holiday weekend as they participated in Operation Dry Water, a national boating safety initiative with a focus on targeting impaired boaters and educating the boating public on the importance of wearing their lifejackets. Virginia has seen 40 boating accidents so far in 2021, resulting in 14 fatalities. Most of these fatalities could have been prevented by the wearing of a life jacket. A life jacket, or Personal Flotation Device (PFD), for each occupant of any boat or vessel is required on Virginia’s waters.
In the effort to keep Virginia’s waterways safe, CPOs were out on the water in force, looking out for boaters who were under the influence and boaters who did not have the proper safety equipment on their boats. Over this long weekend of heightened enforcement, 98 CPOs patrolled 41 bodies of water and conducted 94 patrols that put them in contact with 770 boats. These patrols and contacts resulted in the arrests of five boat operators for Boating under the Influence, 219 boating safety law warnings and the issuance of 120 boating safety citations. CPOs also responded to seven boating accidents, two of which resulted in a fatality.
CPOs observed an excellent response to the awareness messaging leading up to the long holiday weekend about drinking and boating through the number of designated operators they encountered on the water, and the decrease in numbers of boats with alcohol on board.
“As a law enforcement organization, we strive to promote safe boating practices and encourage compliance through outreach and education. As alcohol is a significant contributing factor to serious boating accidents, it is critical for folks to plan ahead and designate a sober operator so everyone is able to enjoy themselves and get off the water safely,” said Major Ryan Shuler, Deputy Chief of Law Enforcement for DWR. It cannot be stressed enough, designate before you operate, and wear your lifejacket.
In Virginia, boaters whose blood alcohol content (BAC) level exceeds the state limit of .08 can be arrested for BUI and face serious penalties upon conviction, including a fine of up to $2,500 and incarceration for a period up to 12 months. Additionally, the operator may lose his privilege to operate a boat for one year on a first offense and up to three years for any subsequent offense. Not having the required PFDs on a boat is a Class III Misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $500.
DWR encourages boaters to never boat under the influence and enjoy their time on the water responsibly. DWR also stresses to make sure you have a PFD that is serviceable and of the proper size and fit for every occupant of your boat. Virginia’s CPOs encourage those enjoying the water to report impaired and reckless boat operators. You can Text DWRTIP plus your tip to 847411, or contact law enforcement at 800-237-5712 or Wildcrime@dwr.virginia.gov.
For more information on Boating Safety and PFD requirements, please visit: https://www.dwr.virginia.gov/boating/.