PROVIDENCE, RI – With the approach of the Fourth of July weekend bringing warmer, sunnier weather, boats will soon be dotting Narragansett Bay and other Rhode Island waterways. The Department of Environmental Management (DEM), in partnership with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), urge boaters to be responsible and not operate their boats under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The agencies are announcing they're ramping up enforcement efforts as part of a national crackdown on impaired boating.
The annual Operation Dry Water campaign focuses on reducing the number of alcohol- and drug-related accidents and fatalities, deterring alcohol and drug use on the water, and raising awareness of the seriousness of the problem. DEM's Environmental Police Officers will be conducting increased patrols Saturday, July 1, through Monday, July 3, monitoring for boaters under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In 2022, law enforcement officers across the nation removed 794 impaired operators from our nation's waterways during the Operation Dry Water weekend.
"The tragedies that happen on our waterways because individuals choose to boat while impaired are totally preventable," said Captain Michael Schipritt with DEM's Division of Law Enforcement. "As law enforcement, it is our job to do everything we can to ensure the safety of recreational boaters and paddlers. Our goal is to not only educate boaters on the dangers of impaired boating, but also to remind them of other safe boating practices, such as enrolling in a boater education course and always wearing a life jacket."
During the three-day, heightened awareness and enforcement campaign, DEM and other law enforcement agencies nationwide will be out in force, looking for boaters who choose to boat under the influence and removing them from the water. Enhanced awareness messaging about the dangers of boating under the influence, along with an increased number of officers on the water, aim to cut down on the number of accidents and deaths due to impaired boating. Since the inception of the Operation Dry Water Campaign in 2009, law enforcement officers have removed 6,152 BUI operators from the nation's waterways and made contact with over 2.5 million boaters during the annual Fourth of July holiday weekend. The campaign continues to make a significant impact on boater safety and spreading the message of the danger of boating under the influence.
Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for drivers because most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do operating a car. In addition, factors that are common to boating such as sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion can intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications.
USCG statistics show that alcohol use continues to be the leading known contributing factor in recreational boater deaths and a leading contributor in boating incidents. There are nearly 40,000 registered boats in Rhode Island. According to RI law, the limits (.08 blood alcohol content) and penalties are the same for driving and boating under the influence. Testing standards also are consistent.
Boaters should also be aware of new boating safety regulations that DEM announced on March 23, which were written to save lives. Violations could result in the imposition of a $100 ticket. The new personal flotation device (PFD) regulation states that all operators and passengers of canoes, kayaks, sailboards, kiteboards, paddleboards, and any other paddle craft must always wear a USCG-approved PFD while underway regardless of age. Another new regulation that could prevent injuries and save lives is a restriction prohibiting anyone from riding on the bow of a powerboat unless it's equipped with bow seats designed to accommodate passengers or from hanging their feet and legs over the top of the gunwale anywhere on the boat while underway.
Another new rule requires boaters to slow down and move over when emergency vessels — such as USCG, firefighting, harbormaster, and DEM boats – are within 300 feet of the boater and have their emergency lights activated. A fourth regulation requires all fire extinguishers on boats to abide by their age expiration date. Typically, the date of manufacture is printed on the bottom of the fire extinguisher. The last new regulation relates to engine cut-off switch compliance. Specifically, the captain of a recreational boat that's 26 feet long or less that's equipped with an engine cut-off switch must use the switch if the boat is "on plane or above displacement speed." Displacement speed is the speed at which the wavelength of a vessel's bow wave is equal to the waterline length of a vessel. As boat speed increases, the wavelength of the bow wave also increases.
Over 400 on-the-water events take place throughout Rhode Island waters, including sail, power, kayak, and social events. A new tool developed by the Better Bay Alliance aims to make boating on Rhode Island waters a safer place to enjoy for all. The tool includes an interactive map called LIVE CHART that shows where events are taking place on the bay so boaters can plan around them for safety. LIVE CHART is free and accessible via the Better Bay Alliance website at betterbayalliance.org.
For more information on Operation Dry Water, please visit operationdrywater.org. For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.