July 11, 2018
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
HOT SPRINGS – More than 200 citations and 400 warnings were issued to boaters on Arkansas waters last week as part of two operations by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Law Enforcement Division, according to Col. Greg Rae, chief of the division.
Operation Dry Water was implemented June 29-July 1 with wildlife officers patrolling lakes and rivers, concentrating on operators who had too much to drink. The operation resulted in 103 citations and 202 warnings issued.
On July 4 and the weekend that followed, enforcement efforts related to boating on area lakes and rivers led to 94 citations and 178 warnings. Also, a Boating Task Force operation specifically aimed at Lake Hamilton resulted in 16 citations and 36 warnings. On Lake Hamilton, two people were arrested for boating under the influence. Across the state, Operation Dry Water led to five more BUIs and five physical arrests, with the highest blood alcohol content of one arrest reading .17 percent, more than twice the legal limit in Arkansas. July 4 and the ensuing weekend saw officers make two BUI arrests and they also worked two boating accidents.
Rae hopes the effect of the operations will lead to safer boating and more boaters being aware of laws on the state’s waterways, especially when it comes to alcohol use.
“Every year with Memorial Day and Operation Dry Water, we see higher numbers than the remaining summer months,” Rae said. “Everyone is eager to get out and have a good time on the water during the first holiday summer months. By the end of the summer, people have generally slowed down and are most assuredly operating a little safer.
“So we will continue to work as we always have on the waters and hopefully the encounter you had or have with our officers is a positive one; but, if not, remember safety regulations are out there to make your time on the water safer and ultimately more enjoyable for families.”
Operation Dry Water is a weekend program set aside every year by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators to enhance enforcement efforts on operating a motorboat while intoxicated. Rae credited the work of wildlife officers throughout Arkansas for the success for that operation as well as the work over July 4.
“They were outstanding. Every body of water where recreational boating use increases with holidays or weekend trips was worked,” he said. “The number of Boating While Intoxicated cases made by our officers pales in comparison to what is actually out there. If we don’t put forth the effort, those in a boat will usually end up in a vehicle driving up and down roads. So, just because they start out on the water doesn’t mean their poor judgment won’t affect you.”
Rae said the AGFC’s Boating Law Administrator, Capt. Stephanie Weatherington, has based the biggest part of her career on safe boating. Weatherington recently concluded her term as president of NASBLA, and during her time as Arkansas’s administrator and her presidency, every action she took was aimed at making the state’s and nation’s waters safer, he said.
“With Capt. Weatherington’s lead, we will continue to try and gain compliance first and foremost through education and outreach but also officer presence,” Rae said.
The division chief said that based on past numbers, the total citations issued over the nine-day period were expected, but wildlife officers noted more awareness among boaters to the state’s laws, such as children wearing life jackets. Some of that, Rae said, is in direct relation to the AGFC’s partnership with Sonic Drive-In and the free ice cream cone “citations” that officers give out all summer for kids wearing life jackets, but much can also be attributed to regular presence on our waterways.
Rae said boaters don’t need more policing as much as they need agency officers out continually talking and teaching boating safety, and arresting those who think operating a boat while intoxicated is any different than drinking and driving on a back road or highway. The mixture of heat and bouncing on water in a boat can enhance the effects of alcohol for boat operators.
Rae is encouraged by the programs’ results.
“What the breakdown of those numbers shows us is that the seriousness of the violations have decreased due to officer presence and public awareness,” Rae said. “It was almost an exact 2-to-1 ratio of warnings being written to pays (citations). It also shows that our officers show a lot of discretion in their work.
“In the past, officers would come across boats with six, seven, eight kids on board with no life jackets, and to me that is a very warranted pay ticket since it involves our kids and some of them not old enough to save themselves. But now, we have those same boats waving our officers down to show them the kids are in life jackets. That’s what our end goal is, boating safety.”