The state’s Environmental Conservation or “EnCon” Police will be out in force to reduce boating under the influence, or “BUI,” this Saturday and Sunday. EnCon Officers will increase their statewide patrols and checkpoints and will also be holding boater education courses. They’ll be looking for boaters with a blood alcohol content or “BAC” exceeding the .08 percent state limit.
"We intend to stop intoxicated boaters and to educate as many boaters as possible about the hazards of boating while under the influence," said EnCon Police Officer Holly Bernier, spokesperson for the Operation Dry Water Campaign.
Impaired boat operators, or passengers, with BAC above the legal limit increase their risk of being in a boating accident. Many capsize their vessels or fall overboard.
And it's not just boats: On June 10, EnCon police charged a 38-year-old man who was operating a jet ski on Candlewood Lake with BUI.
BUI accounts for about one in five fatal boat accidents each year, according to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. There were six boating fatalities during the 2010 boating season, according to DEP. These resulted from both BUI and from boaters not wearing proper flotation devices.
“It’s getting a little tougher because we’ve had some severe accidents,” said state Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican representing Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton in the 26th Senate District.
Boucher was one of several co-sponsors to help push through the increased penalties. Come July 1 boaters under the influence will face fines, jail and loss of boating privileges.
A conviction for reckless boating results in the suspension of a person's boating rights. Police can now repeat breathalyzer tests within ten minutes rather than 30 minutes.
Currently blood samples collected at a hospital after an accident are competent evidence to establish probable cause for a person's arrest under the boating under the influence law. Now samples collected at an accident scene or en route to the hospital are permissible evidence.
Moreover, samples now need only be taken and analyzed in accordance with public safety regulations. They don’t have to be taken by a person licensed to practice medicine in Connecticut, an emergency technician II, or a registered nurse.
By law, if a person is charged with boating under the influence, the charge cannot be reduced, nolled or dismissed unless the prosecuting attorney states in open court his or her reasons for the action.
Operation Dry Water is a joint program of the Connecticut Environmental Conservation Police, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“People should just know that boating under the influence is just as dangerous as driving under the influence,” Boucher said.