Conservation Police Officers (CPOs) with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) were very busy over the Independence Day weekend. Not only did they participate with boating agencies across the US in Operation Dry Water, they also focused on saving lives on the water through the enhanced enforcement of life jacket laws. Virginia has seen 11 boating related fatalities so far this year. Each of these could have been prevented by wearing a life jacket. A Personal Floatation Device (PFD) is required for everyone who is on any type of boat or vessel in Virginia.
In the effort to keep Virginia’s waterways safe, CPOs were out on the water in force, looking out for boaters who were under the influence and boaters who did not have the proper safety equipment on their boats.
Over this long weekend of heightened enforcement, 142 CPOs patrolled 52 bodies of water, conducted 32 checkpoints and 205 patrols that put them in contact with 2,045 boats and 4,774 boaters. The amplified enforcement resulted in 5 boat operator arrests for Boating Under the Influence, 330 boating safety law warnings and 308 boating safety citations. CPOs also responded to 5 boating accidents, assisted numerous stranded and distressed boaters, rescued a canoeist who overturned in hazardous weather, and provided first aid and care to injured boaters. The DGIF communications center handled 1,065 calls for service from the 4th -7th.
“The increased number of designated driver operators absolutely led to a decrease in accidents,” said Major Scott Naff, Law Enforcement Assistant Chief of Operations for DGIF. “With alcohol use being a leading factor in boating deaths and drownings due to boaters not having PFDs, we feel our messaging and enforcement efforts are gaining the compliance needed to save lives,” said Major Naff. “It cannot be stressed enough, designate before you operate and life jackets save lives.” Many boaters noted seeing and hearing DGIFs messages about safe boating and the importance of wearing your lifejacket.
In Virginia, boaters whose blood alcohol content (BAC) level exceeds the state limit of [.08] can be arrested for BUI and face serious penalties upon conviction, including a fine of up to $2,500 and incarceration for a period up to 12 months. Additionally, the operator may lose his privilege to operate a boat for one year on a first offense and up to three years for any subsequent offense. Not having the required PFDs on a boat is a Class III Misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $500.
DGIF encourages boaters to never boat under the influence and enjoy their time on the water responsibly. DGIF also stresses to make sure you have a PFD that is serviceable and of the proper size and fit for every occupant of your boat. Virginia’s CPOs encourage those enjoying the water to report impaired and reckless boat operators at 800-237-5712 or [email protected].