The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) along with enforcement offices across the United States are cracking down on Boating Under the Influence (BUI). This past weekend, GDNR Law Enforcement Rangers were out on state waters under a program called Operation Dry Water.

Operation Dry Water was implemented in 2009 and puts local, state and federal marine law enforcement officers on the water nationwide the last weekend in June to give BUI enforcement high visibility during the peak boating season.

I have not received statistics from this past weekend’s Operation Dry Water program yet, but with the upcoming July 4th weekend approaching, the timing of the event could not have come at a better time. Lakes Oconee and Sinclair will see one of the heaviest boating weekends of the year over the July 4th holiday.

BUI is a primary factor in nearly 1 in 5 boating fatalities nationwide and Georgia has gotten tougher in recent years enforcing BUI laws. In Georgia, BUI penelities can result in fines, jail time, and the loss of a boater’s priviledge to operate any boat or watercraft in the state.

BUI is defined by state law to exist when a boat operator’s Blood Alcohol Content exceeds the state limit of .10 percent. I hope that the patrols that occurred on area waters last weekend will remind boaters over the July 4th weekend to practice safety and most of all, do not drink alcohol and drive a boat.

During the period Januay 1 – April 30 of this year, three BUIs were issued on area lakes with two issued on Lake Sinclair and one issued on Lake Oconee. During that same period, there was one boating accident reported on Lake Oconee that resulted in two people receiving injuries.

During the year 2010, there were 139 BUIs across Georgia with eight BUIs issued on Lake Sinclair and two on Lake Oconee. No boating fatalities have occurred on Georgia waters thus far in 2011 but during 2010, there were 74 fatalities across Georgia and 135 total boating accidents.

Lake Sinclair had two boating accidents with one person injured and Lake Oconee had six boating accidents with three people injured in 2010. There were also 51 drownings in Georgia during 2010 and just this past week another drowning occurred on a Georgia river. Many times alcohol is involved in drownings.

As the July 4th holiday approaches, I am always reminded of the tragic boating accident that occurred a few years ago on Lake Sinclair when boater Mark Baxter was taking a leisurely boat ride with his family to watch fireworks on July 1, 2006.  In a harrowing split second, another boat operated by a drunken boater plowed into Mark’s pontoon boat.

Mark Baxter, a husband and father was killed. The operator of the other boat Mark Entrekin was ticketed for BUI and later sentenced to 16 years in prison. Entrekin died while on medical repieve from prison in 2010. Two families were forever saddened and burdened because of alcohol consumption by a boat operator. Do not get behind the steering wheel of a boat or any type of watercraft and drive if you have consumed alcohol.

Over the busy July 4th weekend, all boaters would do well to read up on all the laws in Georgia that deal with operating any type of watercraft. Those laws were put in place to protect boaters, landowners, anglers, swimmers and all those that utilize the waters of the state.

To review the Georgia boating laws go to www.georgiawildlife.org/boating. Obey the boating laws and practice safety at all times when on the water. Have a happy and safe July 4th holiday. See you next week.   

Outdoor columnist Bobby Peoples can be contacted via e-mail at brpeoples@windstream.net.

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