SEATTLE - Law enforcement is on the lookout for impaired boaters this Fourth of July weekend. The U.S. Coast Guard said alcohol is the leading factor in deadly boating accidents.
Petty Officer Michael Clark is a public affairs specialist for the Coast Guard. He said large crowds are expected on the waters, not just to celebrate the holiday but also to get out of the house escaping COVID-19 quarantine. Clark said more than 50 law enforcement agencies in Washington are partnering with the coast guard on an initiative called Operation Dry Waters. The year-round initiative raises awareness about the dangers of boating while impaired. Clark said there will be extra emphasis on enforcement July 3rd-5th.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in violations as we’ve had more participating agencies out there monitoring the waters doing the best we can to enforce the law. But we definitely hope to mitigate those risks and keep the waters as safe as we can,” said Clark.
Just like the rules on the road, it’s illegal to drive a boat under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
“It impairs your ability to make decisions and your motor skills. The same thing happens on the water. But there’s less chance for someone to be able to help you when you’re out on the water,” said Peter Schrappen, vice president of the Northwest Marine Trade Association.
Promoting boating safety is the priority for the Northwest Maritime Trade Association. Schrappen said anyone going offshore should make a checklist first.
“You want to have your fire extinguisher, you want to make sure it’s lot expired. You want to make sure you have a life jacket for each person on board. You want to be thinking ahead and you want to be aware of the rules of the road,” Schrappen.
For those who don’t follow the rules, Clark said boaters could get a ticket, pay a fine or even have their vessel impounded.
If things take a dangerous turn on the waters, Seattle Fire Department’s Rescue Swimmer Program is ready.
“If we have a report of a drowning, if we have a report of someone in the water that may be in distress and needs assistance, we can dispatch those rescue swimmers. They can swim from shore or also deploy from a boat,” said Kristin Tinsley, the department’s public information officer.
If someone witnesses a swimmer goes underwater and does not come back up, Tinsley said it is imperative to call 911 with a detailed description of the location of where the swimmer was last seen.
“If you’re in a boat or land, look at where you saw the person in the water across from that area and then pinpoint an object—whether it’s a house or something you can see in the distance. And that will help you keep that in mind when you alert firefighters on the scene,” said Tinsley.
While first responders are ready to protect and serve on the water, they said it’s also the community’s responsibility to protect each other from COVID-19.
“It’s extremely critical that people continue to follow the guidance of public health, especially during the celebrations this weekend. We all need to do our part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community. And that includes when you’re out on the water with family and friends—keep in mind those health regulations are still in place,” said Tinsley.