Louisiana is once again participating in the national “Safe Boating Week” that is scheduled for May 19-25 and signifies the beginning of the spring and summer boating season.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) will again be reminding all boaters to be safe, responsible and knowledgeable while on the water during this safe boating week. Safe Boating Week is a time for all boaters to inspect their vessels to ensure that all required safety equipment is on board and that vessels are in good working condition.
LDWF Enforcement Division agents will be out in full force as always during the week to perform boating safety checks and driving or operating a vessel while intoxicated (DWI) patrols. Each vessel should have enough personal flotation devices (PFD) on board for all occupants and a sober operator.
“Personal flotation devices are made to be worn and not sit in a vessel storage compartment. Even if you consider yourself to be a strong swimmer, we (LDWF) still encourage everyone on a boat to wear a personal flotation device whenever the boat is in motion,” said LDWF Boating Safety Officer Capt. Rachel Zechenelly. “A personal flotation device on a boat should be treated the same as a seatbelt in a car, because they are both easy to use and are proven to save lives.”
LDWF boating incident statistics indicate that 19 out of the 36 boating fatalities in 2011 were drownings that could have been prevented if the person was wearing a PFD. LDWF regulations state that anyone 16 years of age and younger must wear a PFD while underway in vessels less than 26 foot long. For more boating and PFD regulations, please visit www.wlf.louisiana.gov/boating.
Agents issued 108 DWIs on the water last year to operators of vessels. Alcohol consumption impairs a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. Alcohol also increases fatigue and susceptibility to hypothermia. Intensifying the effects of alcohol are sun, wind, noise, vibration and movement, which are all common to boating activities.
The penalties for DWI on the water are the same as on the road. Anyone cited for a DWI on the water or on the road will lose his or her driver’s license and boating privileges for the specified time ordered by the judge in the case. Also, each offense of operating a vehicle or vessel while intoxicated counts toward the total number of DWI crimes whether they happened on the water or road.
In Louisiana a DWI can be issued to anyone operating a moving vessel or vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. First offense DWI on the water or on the road carries a $300 to $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Second offense DWI brings a $750 to $1,000 fine and between 30 days and six months in jail. Third offense DWI carries a $5,000 fine and between one and five years in jail. Again, every DWI offense is also subject to a suspension of driving a vehicle and operating a boat privileges.
“One of the best parts of our job is to see people utilize Louisiana’s waterways for recreation in accordance to the boating safety regulations and return home safely to loved ones. However, the worst part of our job is to search for deceased bodies and notify family members of their loss,” said LDWF Lt. Col. Jeff Mayne, the State Boating Law Administrator. “The two ways to make boating safe, fun and a memorable experience is to have a sober operator and to have everyone wear a personal flotation device when the vessel is underway.”
LDWF also wants to remind anybody born after Jan. 1, 1984 that they are required to successfully complete a National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) boating education course to operate a motorboat over 10 horsepower. LDWF offers these classes free of charge statewide. For a list of courses, please visit www.wlf.louisiana.gov/boating/courses.