Local News

Boaters Beware: Sobriety Checkpoints Afloat on Area Lakes

Posted July 3, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— There's no doubt there will be a lot of partying to celebrate Independence Day on area lakes this weekend. On the way to the lakes, you may run into sobriety checkpoints. But you may not expect to be monitored on the water as well. Every year on the 4th of July, 60 people die in boating accidents. Many of those accidents can be attributed to alcohol.

State wildlife officers and park officials aren't fooling around this weekend. They're serious when it comes to drinking and boating on area lakes. Drinking and driving a boat is just as dangerous as drinking and driving a car.

Jordan Lake park superintendent Mike Seigh says reaction time slows, judgment is impaired, and many times speed is underestimated by a boater who has had too much to drink. The result can be a collision.

Richard Ratz boats out at Jordan Lake almost every week. While he has no qualms about having a few beers out on the water, he knows the consequences of being drunk behind the wheel. For a car and a boat, the outcome can be similar. Ratz believes someone can be killed just as fast on the water as out on the road.

The greater effect on some people is the hot, summer sun. Plus park officials say it can add to the natural distractions of boating. The constant beating of the waves and the soft motor can sometimes hypnotize an operator. A boater will become used to the sound and become lulled into a safe sense of security.

That security can be washed away with thousands of people out on the lake over the holiday weekend. A DWI offense in a boat will not affect a person's driving record. It's a class two misdemeanor that carries with it up to $1,000 in fines and 30 days of community service. For a repeat offender, jail time would then become a factor.

Park officials are asking boaters to think smart and be safe in their boats, just as they would in their cars..