HEISER: Don't let boating and booze sink a good time on the water

Steve Heiser
York Dispatch
  • The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will crack down on drunken boaters over the coming week.
  • The crackdown is part of Operation Dry Water.
  • Last year in Pennsylvania, alcohol was a contributing factor in six boating fatalities.

Boating and booze can form a lethal combination.

Last year in Pennsylvania, six families learned that heartbreaking fact. They endured fatal — but completely unnecessary — tragedies.

Veronica Hatten, of Elizabethtown, backs her pontoon boat from the docking area Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, at Codorus State Park near Hanover. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is encouraging boaters to avoid booze while boating over the Fourth of July holiday period.

In 2016, across the state, 11 individuals died in boating accidents. Alcohol was a contributing factor in six of the cases. Those figures are according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC).

Why bring this up now?

Well, the Fourth of July holiday is fast approaching. It's annually one of the biggest boating periods of the year. 

For many folks, there's no better way to spend a hot and humid holiday than floating, paddling or riding on our state's waterways. Unfortunately, many add alcohol into that mix. 

The result is often disastrous.

That's why the PFBC will crack down on boating under the influence (BUI) as part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign, which runs from June 30 through July 2. The program is operated in partnership with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

The goal is simple — increase boater awareness about the hazards of BUI and decrease the number of accidents and deaths attributed to impaired boating.

"As a part of the community ourselves, we want to ensure that recreational boaters, paddlers and anyone enjoying our waters have a safe place to spend their time on the water, " Col. Corey Britcher said in a news release. Britcher is director of the PFBC Bureau of Law Enforcement. “Alcohol impairs judgment and reaction time on the water just as it does when driving a car, even more so because of the added stressors of sun, heat, wind and noise on a boat. 

“Choosing to consume alcohol while boating puts everyone at risk, including passengers and people in the water. Our goal is to remove anyone choosing to operate a vessel impaired and to keep everyone else safe.” 

Throughout the holiday weekend, boaters will likely notice an increase in the numbers of officers on the water and at recreational boating checkpoints. They'll be watching closely for any boaters who are breaking the law.

Regional impact: This is most definitely a problem that impacts our region. So far this year, PFBC waterways conservation officers have arrested 14 individuals for boating under the influence, including two on the Susquehanna River.

In 2016, waterways conservation officers arrested 90 individuals, with 23 of those arrests in the 12-county southcentral Pennsylvania region, which includes York County.

“Many boaters may not know that the threshold for BUI is the same as with motor vehicles — 0.08 percent,” Britcher said. “If you are found to be impaired and operating a boat you will be arrested.”

The PFBC offers a few simple tips to stay safe on the water, including: 

►Boat sober. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. Alcohol and drug use impairs a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time.

►Wear your life jacket — 85 percent* of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket

►Take a boating safety education course — 71 percent* of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction, where instruction was known.

Follow those basic guidelines and you'll safely enjoy a relaxing day on the water.

It's a simple formula, really. Beware, be sober and be safe.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com. Some numbers* were for 2015 and provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Recreational Boating Statistics.