By: Joanne M. Haas/DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement
Nice job, Wisconsin boaters. You, too, silent sporters.
And let's follow the lead of the Vilas County happy crew aboard the pontoon in the right photo. That group shows in action the message of the national campaign known as Operation Dry Water.
Around since 2009, the safety-themed weekend - this year marked on June 20 through July 2 - is to raise the general public awareness about all the completely stupid things that can be easily avoided if you simply stay sober while driving a boat. That's it. Just put off enjoying your adult beverages until you are home or out with a designated driver.
Cue the pontoon crew pic. Warden Mike Sealander came upon this group during his Operation Dry Water patrol and promptly called them the Little St. Germain Lake Tiki Barge of Vilas County. That's the way to put safety into fun! Look at those people. Makes you want to wave them down and see if there's room for one more.
That Vilas County's crew dedication to safety was not isolated.
Stats and stories portray a safety scene with many of the boaters who enjoyed the waters during the Operation Dry Water weekend. Most of you boaters contacted realized how simple and smart it is to enjoy your trip with your family and pals as the reliable sober operator.
The DNR wardens joined 42 local and boating patrol agencies statewide for the national campaign to raise awareness about the perils of boating under the influence of alcohol or other drugs - and removing impaired operators for safety sake.
This year, the wardens and the 42 other patrol agencies contacted a whopping 8,476 boaters on 3,412 vessels of one kind or another, meaning boats and paddlers. The bulk of those contacts were completed by wardens - 6,867 boaters and 2,890 vessels.
Was it all safe stories? No.
Out of all those boaters, all 43 agencies arrested 29 for operating a boat while impaired and 3 more for use of other drugs while operating. The highest blood alcohol level was .229. Wisconsin's blood alcohol content limit is .08.
Perfect? No way. Still work remains on this front. However, consider the total impaired was 32 out of 8,476. Wow, that's a great job by everyone... nearly everyone.
You may be asking yourself, 'what does boating impaired look like?' It looks like this, as one warden described in a report:
"Assisted 3 subjects that had all fell off a jet ski due to the two passengers being so intoxicated ... lanyard was not attached and (jet ski) continued to operate in circles."
Between all 43 agencies, less than 4% of the contacts resulted in citations and more than 17% (1,387) were warnings. What kinds of things prompt warnings? Things such as: too few personal flotation devices on board, motor exceeding noise limits, wrong or no lights illuminated at night.
Here's a fun math game for you. Invite your guests. Count the number who actually show up for the fun. Then match that number with number of life jackets you have on board. Inside winner tip: Have everyone don a life jacket and take turns complimenting each other on his or her stylish, smart safe look. The best compliment, as voted by those on board, can call where you'll dock for lunch. Nice and filling, not to mention with a strong side dish of safety.
Operation Dry Water's focus is boaters. But, if you've been on Wisconsin water, or on a Wisconsin shore, or enjoying a Wisconsin park with a lake, you have likely seen silent sports fans. Canoeists, kayakers, stand-up paddle-boarders to name a few super popular activities.
Wardens took the time to remind also these enthused participants about the importance of life jackets. The mission continues on this safety front, too. However, wardens did see improvement from last year. Excellent! Keep it up and tell your pals. You can play that math game if you are canoeing in a group - who really wears that life jacket well? Sometimes, the compliments are just too good, so ties are perfectly acceptable. Flip a coin for who buys the dock snacks.
It wasn't all Operation Dry Water. Wardens did help a boater whose 40-foot vessel got stuck under a railroad bridge, and provided an assist to a boat in distress.
Operation Dry Water is the brainchild of the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. The administrators' group partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard, known for its concern about alcohol use being a, if not often the, primary contributing factor to recreational boater deaths. Together, they launched the national campaign. If you want to learn more about the program, visit www.operationdrywater.org
It's a natural fit for Wisconsin because this state is water. We have 84,000 river miles and 15,000 lakes where fishing, boating swimming and just looking at the beauty are popular year-round.
Keep up your safe boating tactics: wear your life jacket any time you are on the water, take a boat safety course and know your regulations. It's just more fun to do it right.
If you have information regarding natural resource violations, you may confidentially report by calling or texting: VIOLATION HOTLINE: 1-800-TIP-WDNR or 1-800-847-9367. The hotline is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Trained staff relay report information to conservation wardens.