State cracking down on drunken drivers in boats

ALBANY, Ga. -- Boaters would be better off going on the wagon this weekend, or at least moderating their imbibing, because law enforcement agencies plan strict controls regarding alcohol and drugs.

If boaters don't drink, there is a better chance they'll remain uninjured and alive to enjoy the pastime again, said Sgt. Mike Burgamy, a law enforcement officer with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Division.

"We want people to have fun while boating, but BUI (boating under the influence) has become the leading contributing factor in fatal recreational boating accidents," Burgamy said.

"We recommend boaters avoid drinking alcoholic beverages, and we will have zero tolerance for anyone found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs on our waters."

Officers plan to look for boat operators whose blood alcohol exceeds the state limit of .10 percent during the weekend.

"We chose the first weekend before the Fourth of July to help get the message out that boating while under the influence is serious and will not be tolerated," said Ron Sarver, deputy director of the national Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

"We have found that the message carries through the Fourth of July weekend."

Although the threshold of .10 percent blood alcohol can guarantee a charge of BUI or drunken boating, the .08 percentage can also be considered for a charge of "less safe," said Ellis Wynn, an Albany law enforcement officer of the Department of Natural Resources.

"It is still a BUI to be charged with less safe for .08 percent," Wynn said. "If your activity proves to an officer that you are operating a boat in a manner that is less safe you can be charged."

There have been 12 BUIs in Southwest Georgia so far this year, said Melissa Cummings, outreach specialist for the Department of Natural Resources. Two of them have been on the Flint River.

Summer just started a couple days ago and the total is double last year's number of BUIs, she said.

Last summer, 46 states participated in the first Operation Dry Water. During the three-day weekend, 283 BUI citations were issued nationally. In Georgia during 2009, there were 177 BUI citations. This year all 50 states plan to participate.

"It is just the beginning," Wynn said. "We are making BUI enforcement a high priority all summer."