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Operation Dry Water underway in Iowa

Published: Friday, June 27, 2014 11:01 a.m. CST

(MCT) — State, federal and local law enforcement agencies will focus this weekend on enforcing Iowa’s boating-while-intoxicated law as part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign.

“We will conduct boating-while-intoxicated-focused enforcement with increased patrols and check points. We will be administering breath tests and working to inform the public on the hazards involved on the waters across Iowa,” said Susan Stocker, boating law administrator and education coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources.

Operation Dry Water will be conducted June 27-29 on unspecified bodies of water in Iowa, Stocker said.

While she would not identify specific target areas, Stocker said their selection will be influenced by boating conditions following recent heavy rains. Lakes and rivers with water high enough to deter boaters likely would not be selected, she said.

Stocker said the DNR will have all its full-time officers, as well as some seasonal employees, engaged in the effort.

Partners will include personnel from sheriff’s office, police departments, agencies of neighboring states and the U.S. Coast Guard, she added.

During last year’s Operation Dry Water campaign, the DNR and its partners contacted more than 426 vessels containing 1,613 boaters resulting in 90 citations or warnings.

The 2013 effort was conducted on Coralville Lake, Saylorville Reservoir, Lake Rathbun, Lake Red Rock, Okoboji and the Missouri River.

Last year more than 66 percent of Iowa’s boating fatalities involved alcohol, and the figure was 70 percent in 2012, according to Stocker.

“We are very concerned that our rate is about double the national rate of 34 percent, and we want to educate as many boaters as we can in an effort to bring our rate down,” she said.

Wind, wave action, sun and glare can magnify the intoxicating effects of alcohol, Stocker said.

Being a good highway driver does not necessarily translate into being a safe boater, she said. “Out on the water there are no stop signs, no brakes and no centerline, but there are waves and currents,” she said.

As well as limiting alcohol consumption, boaters should wear a properly fitting life jacket, she said.

State law requires boat operators to carry a properly fitted wearable lifejacket for every person on board. Passengers 12 and younger are required to wear their life jackets whenever the boat is underway.

More than 50 percent of drowning victims were not wearing life jackets, Stocker said.

In 2011 the Legislature reduced the legal blood-alcohol limit for boaters from 0.10 to 0.08, making that threshold consistent with the legal limit for drivers of highway vehicles.

With the law change, the number of boating-while-intoxicated arrests in Iowa jumped from 55 in 2011 to 95 in 2012. Last year’s total was 56, which is more consistent with historical averages, Stocker said.

Unlike operators of highway vehicles, however, boaters can have open containers in their vessels and can drink while operating their boats as long as their blood alcohol level does not exceed the legal limit.

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©2014 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Visit The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) at thegazette.com

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