SAN DIEGO — The Coast Guard urges mariners to exercise vigilance and caution Thursday for the upcoming holiday weekend as celebrations are expected to increase the presence of boaters on the waterways.
The Coast Guard and local partners will be on heightened alert for boaters operating vessels while under the influence in support of Operation Dry Water.
Operation Dry Water is an annual, nationwide campaign that takes place during the Fourth of July weekend targeting boaters suspected of operating under the influence. According to the 2019 recreational boating statistics report, alcohol continued to be the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, accounting for more than 100 deaths, or 23 percent of total fatalities.
Additionally, the Coast Guard is warning the public of the hazards associated with illegal passenger vessel operations. Illegal passenger vessel operations are commercial operations that require some form of payment or compensation for a voyage, where the operator of that vessel is not in compliance with federal passenger vessel regulations. Examples of compensation for a voyage may include, but are not limited to, paying for gas, buying a ticket, donations or economic benefit, including voluntary sharing of expenses. These operations are a danger to the public, the environment and the livelihood of licensed, responsible operators.
“With Operation Dry Water coming up, our primary mission is to emphasize boating safety and to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking alcohol while operating a boat,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ellen Motoi, the Coast Guard Sector San Diego chief of enforcement. “Boating under the influence is just as dangerous as drinking while driving and the Coast Guard takes it very seriously. If you’re going to be operating a vessel, we recommend that you don’t drink. If you exceed the .08 limit you could be facing potential serious consequences.”
Owners and operators can face civil penalties for conducting illegal passenger-for-hire operations.
Passengers are highly encouraged to verify a vessel and its operator are in compliance with the above regulations prior to their trip. Before boarding the vessel, ask to see the captain's license and look for a current Coast Guard inspection sticker for commercial vessels carrying more than six passengers.
Additionally, the Coast Guard recommends that boaters follow these key boating safety tips:
- Never boat under the influence. It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. There are stringent penalties for violating BUI/BWI laws, which can include large fines, suspension or revocation of boat operator privileges and jail terms.
- Always wear a life jacket. There is usually very little time to reach for stowed vests when accidents occur. Wearing one at all times reduces the risk of drowning. Federal law requires mariners to have a personal flotation device aboard for each passenger.
- Have sufficient means of communication including a VHF radio. VHF channel 16 is the international hailing and distress frequency and can be used to reach the Coast Guard during emergencies.
- File a float plan. A float plan is simply letting family and friends know where you are going and your expected time of return. File a float plan with someone who is not getting underway with you and stick to the plan. A float plan assists responders in the search of an overdue boater who may be in distress. Float plans can be filed through the Coast Guard’s safety app using the below QR codes.
- Do not carry more passengers than a boat is designed for. Check the boat’s maximum capacity plate (if equipped). Do not carry more passengers or more weight than the boat is designed for. Overloading can cause the boat to ride lower in the water, reduce the vessel’s stability and greatly increase the chance of capsizing. Additionally, too much weight on one side of the boat can cause the vessel to list and increase the chances of capsizing.
- Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Even if boaters don’t plan to enter the water, they should be prepared for an emergency. Paddleboarders, kayakers and wind surfers who are likely to go in the water should wear a wet suit to decrease their risk of hypothermia and a life jacket to prevent them from drowning before rescuers can get on scene.
- Never turn your back on the water. There are strong rip currents along the Pacific coast, and sneaker waves are common