“Operation Dry Water” Enhanced Boating Under the Influence Enforcement Set for Holiday Weekend

During the extended Independence Day weekend and throughout the remainder of the summer, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) waterways conservation officers (WCOs) will be focusing on boater safety by keeping impaired boaters off the water.

From July 4-6, 2024, WCOs will participate in Operation Dry Water, a nationally coordinated effort between law enforcement agencies, to conduct enhanced Boating Under the Influence (BUI) enforcement. Recreational boaters will notice an increase in the number of officers on the water and at recreational boating checkpoints.​

In partnership with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the PFBC is working to increase boater awareness of the hazards associated with impaired boating, and to decrease the number of accidents and deaths attributed to impaired boating and other unsafe boating practices.

“The waters of the Commonwealth are shared by everyone, and they should be a safe place for all of us to enjoy,” said Col. Jeffrey Sabo, Director of the PFBC Bureau of Law Enforcement.  “Alcohol and drugs impair a boat operator’s judgment and reaction time the same way they do when you are driving a car, and even more so because of the added stressors of sun, heat, wind and noise on a boat.”

In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to operate any watercraft, powered or unpowered, while impaired.  The blood alcohol limit for boat operators is .08%, and WCOs are trained to recognize signs of impairment and conduct sobriety tests on the water.  Penalties for BUI include fines, loss of boating privileges, and imprisonment.

The PFBC recommends that boaters avoid alcohol altogether, or at minimum, choose a designated operator who will not consume any alcohol during the duration of the boating trip.

Last year across Pennsylvania, eight individuals died in boating accidents.  Alcohol or drugs was determined to be a contributing factor in at least three of the cases.  A total of 39 individuals were arrested for BUI in 2023.

Law requires that a U.S. Coast Guard-approved wearable life jacket is present on the boat for each person aboard.  Children ages 12 and under must always wear a life jacket when underway in any boat 20 feet or less in length and in all canoes and kayaks.  A life jacket must be properly fitting, in good serviceable condition, and used in accordance with activities specified on its label.

In Pennsylvania, anyone born on or after January 1, 1982, is required to have a Boating Safety Education Certificate (BSEC) to operate a boat powered by a motor greater than 25 horsepower.  All persons, regardless of age, are required to have a BSEC to operate a personal watercraft such as a Jet Ski™.  A BSEC can be obtained by successfully completing an approved boating safety education course, available online or by registering for an in-person class held at various locations throughout the year.