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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Coast Guard, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Alaska State Troopers, along with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are conducting Operation Dry Water throughout Alaska, Thursday through Sunday.
Operation Dry Water is a national campaign focused on reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities and fostering a stronger, more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water.
The operation focuses on spreading awareness of the danger of boating under the influence as well as changing cultural acceptance of boating while intoxicated.
Boaters can expect to see an increased law enforcement presence on waters throughout Alaska.
Boaters in Alaska should also be aware that while recreational marijuana use may be legal at the state level, possessing marijuana on federal waters is still against federal law.
“Recreational marijuana remains illegal federally,” said Chief Warrant Officer Thad Wagner with the Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Enforcement Division. “As a federal law enforcement agency, the Coast Guard can seize marijuana on federal waterways, issue a civil penalty, and/or pursue criminal action.”
Boaters in federal waters in possession of personal use quantities of marijuana may be found in violation of 46 USC 70506(c), Simple Possession. This violation may include a civil penalty ranging between $500 and $5,000.
In 2018, 574 local, state, and federal agencies participated in Operation Dry Water nationwide. Law enforcement officers contacted 201,888 boaters, made 494 Boating Under the Influence arrests and issued 26,565 citations and warnings for safety violations. In 2018, more than 7,000 officers from 574 local, state and federal agencies participated in the 72 hours of heightened BUI enforcement.
U.S. Coast Guard 2017 data reveal that alcohol use remains the primary known contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is against federal law and most state laws. Alcohol can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. It can also increase fatigue and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion. Sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion – stressors common to the boating environment – intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications. Impairment can be even more dangerous for boaters than for drivers, since most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car.
Persons found to be boating under the influence can expect to incur severe penalties. If a boat operator is BUI, the voyage may be terminated, the boat may be impounded and the operator may be arrested. Penalties can include fines, jail, loss of boating privileges and even loss of driving privileges.
“We’re not against people having fun,” said Wagner. “We want people to enjoy themselves, and to do it safely.”