News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Law enforcement has impaired boaters in its sights

Marine law enforcement officers from across the state will be joining with the Oregon State Marine Board and the U.S. Coast Guard to enforce Oregon’s Boating Under the Influence of Intoxicants (BUII) laws this July 4 weekend.

“If there is a chance you’ll be impaired this summer – especially during the July 4 weekend, don’t go boating,” says Randy Henry, with the Oregon State Marine Board. “It’s not worth the risk.”

Henry notes that many of the state’s 36 sheriffs’ offices and Oregon State Police will specifically be looking for impaired boat operators over the holiday weekend as part of the national Operation Dry Water Campaign.

“If you’re impaired and we catch you, that can be the end of your boating fun for up to three years,” Henry said.

Many marine officers have completed specialized training to recognize alcohol and drug impairment. This includes prescription drugs, alcohol, inhalants, marijuana, or any other substance that impairs a person’s ability to make sound judgments and have the ability to safely operate a boat. The effects of drugs and alcohol are also amplified on the water with the combination of sun glare, wind, waves, and other environmental stressors. Alcohol also dehydrates the body, making sudden immersion into cold water an even greater risk for drowning.

Impaired boaters can expect to be arrested or face serious penalties. In Oregon, the consequences of being convicted of BUII include the possibility of jail time, $6,250 in fines, loss of boating privileges, and a 1-3 year suspension of the boater education card, and potentially being court-mandated to take another boating safety course. Marine officers can arrest boaters on observed impairment and can legally obtain blood, breath, or urine if a boater fails field sobriety testing.

So far this year, only two people have been arrested for BUII but the advent of hot weather may change that.

“Overall, recreational boating is safe if boaters wear life jackets, boat sober, and keep a sharp lookout,” Henry said. “Waterways are becoming more crowded with a variety of mixed boating and other activities, so it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on around you and to follow the navigation rules of the road. If boaters changed two things — wear life jackets and abstain from impairing substances — boating fatalities would be rare. Oregon’s waters can be challenging enough for the sober boater; an impaired boater is really taking a huge, unnecessary risk, and they’re subjecting others to it as well.”

Henry added, “The public is our ally in safe boating. If you see an impaired operator or someone who is operating in a way that threatens others’ safety, call 911 and report it. That’s how we can work together to save lives.”

For more information about Operation Dry Water, visit


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