CLEVELAND — The hot weather this holiday weekend likely means more boaters out on Lake Erie.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard are reminding people that alcohol and boating don’t mix with their Operation Dry Water campaign. Coordinated by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard, Operation Dry Water is a national crackdown on impaired boating.
“This could potentially be our biggest weekend,” said Officer Chad Kosan with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “Almost all of our staff is on. We're going to be spread out you know, anywhere - our area’s from Vermilion to Geneva that we cover northeast. And basically we're going to have officers out, we're going to have as many as we can, local agencies are going to have officers out.”
Officials say alcohol is the leading contributing factor in boating deaths and accidents, so they’re beefing up patrols this weekend to make sure people are boating safe and sober.
“We're going to make sure that we have extra equipment. A lot of times on busy weekends like this, people bring the boat out for the one time for the year. So we have extra life jackets so we can get them back safely, stuff like that,” Kosan said.
Kosan says while it's ok for boat passengers to drink on Lake Erie - just like a car, it's illegal for boat operators to have a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher in Ohio. He says alcohol can have increased effects while boating. He also recommends every boat have a designated sober operator.
“When you're out on the boat, the wind and the waves and the heat actually contribute so that one beer on the water is equal to three on land when you add in all those additional factors,” Kosan said.
The U.S. Coast Guard is also joining the effort by increasing patrols. Petty Officer 3rd Class Gregory Shell says the same rules about alcohol apply to people using self-powered vessels, like kayaks or paddle boats.
“The same regulations apply with alcohol, you can't be operating those vessels under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, you're close to the water, you're going to be feeling the motion, the muscle fatigue from having to paddle, the heat of the sun. And if you were to add alcohol into that mix, you're going to have impaired judgment, you know, loss of response time, and it could, it could really be dangerous for you,” Shell said.
They’ll also be making sure boaters are following other safety regulations, like making sure there are enough life jackets on board for everyone.
“If you're out on the boat, while you don't need to be wearing your life jacket, there does need to be one life jacket per person and the Coast Guard recommends that you wear your life jacket the whole time because it's exactly like a seatbelt. You don't want to be reaching for it at the last minute. You want to be having it and children should always be wearing life jackets out on the water,” Shell said.
Kosan recommends people take ODNR’s online boating education course before getting out on the water. It's required for anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1982 who is operating a vessel with more than 10 horsepower.
“It's about an eight hour course, PowerPoints, videos, then you take a test at the end, that's going to teach you all the required safety equipment. It's going to teach you the navigation rules on the water, things like that, that are gonna keep you safe,” Kosan said.
ODNR also recommends that every boater has a flow plan - letting someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. If your boat is in distress, call 911, VHF channel 16, or hail mayday to get in touch with the Coast Guard.
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