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ALBERT LEA, MN — Impaired boating is one of the leading factors for boating accidents and injuries across the nation.
With the 4th of July right around the corner, local lakes are expected to be busy in the coming days and authorities are out in full force.
Last year alcohol was a contributing factor to a third of the deadly boating accidents in Minnesota. So officials with the Department of Natural Resources in Minnesota and Iowa are working to bring that number down.
The recent weather is throwing a wrench in many people’s 4th of July plans.
“Last week I had to wade knee deep just to get to a picnic table to sit on shore and today it’s down like three feet from that, so it’s really throwing a cramp in everything,” said Tony Tengwall of Albert Lea.
But when people do make their way out on to area lakes, the Minnesota DNR is ready. They are out checking for impaired boat drivers and they call it “Operation Dry Water.”
“It’s a big boating holiday and obviously a lot of times with holidays alcohol gets involved too so we just want to make sure people are aware that we’re going to be out there. There is zero tolerance,” said Conservation Officer Luke Belgard.
Unlike driving a car, you can consume alcohol while driving a boat, but like a car, there is a limit.
“Obviously careless boating would be a pretty good indicator for alcohol, but we’ll also look for those smaller things to go up and talk to you and then as we’re talking to you we’re going to look for the indicators of alcohol impairment,” Belgard said.
One reason the DNR wants to remind you to be responsible while driving has to do with weather conditions.
A hot day can dehydrate you and adding alcohol to the equation can enhance the problem.
“People probably don’t notice it as much as driving in a car because of those other factors and it can actually sneak up on them pretty quickly,” Belgard said.
In the end, they want you to enjoy yourself on the lake but be safe while doing so.
“I’ve been in situations before where people have been out drinking and we’ve actually got into a boating accident with those people and it was kind of a mess so it’s nice to know that there’s people out here trying to keep everyone safe,” Tengwall said.
Although the DNR’s efforts are focused on impaired boaters this weekend, they will still be checking for the basic requirements like life jackets and fishing licenses.
Boaters who are caught operating under the influence will have their boat impounded. They can also be arrested, fined or lose their boating privileges.