DAYTON (AP) — Ohio is stepping up its boating patrols with a focus on impaired boaters after tying for third nationally in alcohol-related boating accidents last year.
The U.S. Coast Guard says Ohio tied with Illinois with 18 alcohol-related accidents last year and trailed only Florida and Wisconsin, which had 25 and 19 respectively, the Dayton Daily News reported Saturday. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Watercraft is joining units throughout the nation this weekend in Operation Dry Water, an effort to increase or concentrate patrols in problem areas to watch for impaired boating.
Alcohol is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents, and was the leading factor in 16 percent of recreational boating deaths last year, according to the Coast Guard. Alcohol was a factor in five boating deaths and 21 injuries in Ohio in 2011.
Boating impairment also is increasingly involving drug use as well as alcohol use, said Todd Doncyson, law enforcement administrator for the Division of Watercraft.
“We’re not out to ruin a person’s good time, but we’re talking about serious risk,” Doncyson said. “It’s not always the operator, sometimes it’s someone falling overboard. So many people can be affected.”
Division of Watercraft officials said alcohol use in boating is different than in driving for several reasons, including the number of environmental factors involved in operating a boat.
“With a car, most people know how to operate the vehicle, so the keys can be given to someone else,” said Lance Hopkins, the Division of Watercraft’s area supervisor for the Cincinnati field office. “If someone takes a bunch of friends out on a boat, a lot of times no one else on that boat knows how to operate the vehicle.”
Ken Alvey, director of the Boating Associations of Ohio, said boaters also are concerned about impaired boating.
“It’s a concern, and it’s the abuse of alcohol that’s the problem, not just the use of it,” Alvey said. “There always needs to be awareness.”
Ohio, which was one of 19 states that saw an increase in accidents involving alcohol from 2007 to 2011, also has seen an increase in the number of boaters on state waterways.
Boating registrations in the state set an Ohio record of 426,674 last year, an increase of 13,870 since 2005. Officials attribute much of that increase to more residents turning to less expensive, smaller kayaks and canoes on the state’s more than 600 inland lakes and more than 128,500 linear miles of rivers, streams, creeks and even smaller bodies of water.
The number of registered canoes and kayaks grew 110 percent in the decade ending 2011 to 97,963 registrations.
To help offset the increased number of boaters and retirements in the Division of Watercraft, the division graduated 24 cadets this month from the Ohio State Highway Patrol academy.
A major part of their training is recognizing impaired boating. Impaired boaters often are stopped for other violations and then tested.