Boat patrols to begin this weekend

Warm sunny weather is prompting more boaters to hit the water and have some fun.

But officers have a warning for them: Drinking and boating don't mix.

Deputies with the Benton County and Franklin County marine patrols will be out on the Columbia River this weekend looking for intoxicated boaters.

They are participating in a national emphasis patrol called Operation Dry Water to educate and enforce boating under the influence rules.

"There will be arrests this weekend, and some boaters will face the consequences of boating under the influence," said Franklin County sheriff's Deputy Steve Warren. "We want recreational boaters to enjoy themselves, but there will be zero tolerance for BUI."

The emphasis patrols start today and run through Sunday.

Like drivers, boaters with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher can be arrested for BUI.

It is, however, more difficult for officers to spot impaired boaters because there aren't lanes on the water for officers to watch boaters cross over, Warren said. But officers do watch for reckless or negligent activity as an indicator that someone may be drinking and boating, he said. They also watch boaters as they drive next to them.

On the Columbia River, law enforcement officers can board any boat for any reason, but Warren said they try to watch for suspicious activity before stopping a boat.

An intoxicated boat operator or passenger runs a significantly increased risk of being in a boating accident, Warren said. Boat accidents also are more deadly for passengers and operators, many of whom capsize their vessel or simply fall overboard, he said.

BUI is a primary contributing factor in one in five boating deaths nationwide, and Washington has gotten tougher in recent years in enforcing laws against the high-risk behavior, Warren said.

In addition to looking for impaired boaters, officers also will be reminding people about boater safety education cards and checking to make sure boats have all the required safety equipment on board, including life jackets.

Warren said he has been telling boaters about the extra enforcement patrols this weekend so they are prepared and safe.

"I'd rather not find any BUI's. It makes for a boring day, but we advertise it for that reason," Warren said, adding that boaters need to remember to "just be safe, have fun and pay attention."