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Coast Guard warns against mixing alcohol with boating, other water sports

Swezey's Harts Cove Marina offers boaters a travelift

Swezey's Harts Cove Marina offers boaters a travelift and boat ramp, floating docks, repair service, and bait and tackle in East Moriches. Credit: Daniel Brennan

Don't drink and drive. 

With the Fourth of July weekend on the horizon, the U.S. Coast Guard Thursday stressed an addition to that sage advice: Don't drink and drive a boat. Or a personal watercraft. Or even use a paddleboard or kayak. In fact, don't drink if you plan to be on the water at all.

That, as the Coast Guard announced details of "Operation Dry Water," a new yearlong national campaign "aimed at preventing boating accidents" as the result of boating — or being on the water — under the influence.

The goal of the campaign, announced at a news conference Thursday morning at USCG Station Shinnecock in Hampton Bays, is to educate the public "on the dangers of drinking and boating," as well as the importance of having all the correct boat safety equipment needed to create a safe environment on the water.

The unit said that despite coronavirus protocols in place, there still has been a 19% increase in fatal boating accidents nationally in 2020 compared to the same time a year ago.

In the Northeast, that increase has been a staggering 400% over the same time in 2019. Some are related to impairment, others accidents that the Coast Guard said were avoidable.

Just last weekend, a 26-year-old Baldwin woman was killed when the raft she was on with two others being towed behind a powerboat slammed into a bulkhead in Parsonage Cove in Oceanside. Police found nothing criminal about the incident, calling it a tragic accident.

But the Coast Guard said that with better weather, even more recreational boaters are expected to be on the water in coming weeks. And so not only is boating safety important, compliance regarding alcohol and drug use is of great importance, too.

Especially, during the Fourth of July weekend, a time Chief Warrant Officer Gregg Pescuma of USCG Station Shinnecock called "a holiday known for drinking, for boating and for deadly accidents."

As Pescuma said: "We'll be on the water providing heightened enforcement and awareness about the dangers of drinking while boating … Alcohol can impair a boater's judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. It can increase the speed and susceptibility to the effects of cold-water immersion … Alcohol abuse is also often dangerous to passengers, as well. Intoxicated passengers can easily slip, fall overboard or suffer other life-threatening accidents."

He said even some prescription medications can cause safety and impairment concerns.

As it is with the operation of a motor vehicle, a boat operator is considered drunk if they have a blood-alcohol content of .08% in New York. Penalties include possible jail or fine, loss of license and other boating privileges and impoundment of the vessel, Pescuma said.

The Coast Guard reminds boaters that all charter vessels in New York — that is, charters with more than six passengers — are required to post license and USCG safety inspection information.

Requirements include fire suppression instruments on board, as well as navigation systems, radio transmission systems, safety flares, life jackets or other personal flotation devices, and an array of other safety equipment.

The Coast Guard stressed that for recreational boaters, including watercraft users, paddle boarders and kayakers, important safety measures not only include having personal flotation devices, but also can be as simple a safe-boating measure as filing a float plan.

Pescuma said such a plan is as simple as letting friends or family know a departure location and time, where you're headed and when you expect to return. This allows concerned family and friends to notify authorities when you are overdue.

Observing coronavirus protocols as required by state and local authorities also is paramount at this time, the Coast Guard said. "Don't boat if you feel sick or at high risk," Pescuma said. "Maintain social distancing [practices] while boating."

As Pescuma said: "We want all boaters to enjoy their time on the water and make it home safely."

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