Gilford — June 24, 2009 — Thinking about drinking and operating a boat this weekend? New Hampshire Marine Patrol officers will be looking for boaters who are operating under the influence as the state begins participating in a national awareness campaign known as Operation Dry Water. As part of its stepped up effort, the Department of Safety has authorized increased patrols on state lakes, including Ossipee Lake.
Impaired boaters caught this weekend can expect penalties that include a minimum fine of $500, a one-year loss of boating privileges and a minimum 90-day driver’s license suspension. In New Hampshire, a boater is considered to be under the influence if his blood alcohol concentration has reached the state limit of .08 percent.
In a press release, David Barrett, the state’s Director of Safety Services, said the Marine Patrol has a zero tolerance policy for anyone found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“There will be arrests this weekend,” Barrett said, “and some boaters will face the consequences. But we’d much rather arrest someone than to have to tell their friends and family they’re never coming back.”
The state’s new awareness effort comes in the wake of several high profile alcohol-related boating accidents in the region.
Last year a Laconia woman, Erica Blizzard, 34, was indicted on charges of negligent homicide and aggravated driving after crashing her boat into Lake Winnipesaukee’s Diamond Island. Authorities say she and her two passengers had spent the night drinking in Wolfeboro before heading home in the boat. Stephanie Beaudoin of Meredith was killed in the crash, and Nicole Shinopules of Burlington, Mass., was injured. Blizzard faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
In a Maine trial last year, Massachusetts resident Robert LaPointe, 39, was convicted on two counts of aggravated operating under the influence as the result of a high speed crash in which he ran his boat over another craft, killing Terry Raye Trott of Harrison, Maine and Suzanne Groetzinger of Berwick. LaPoint was sentenced to three and a half years in jail and two years of probation. The jury deadlocked on additional charges of manslaughter and reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon.
National statistics show that 21% of boating fatalities are the result of alcohol use, which can impair a boater’s judgment, balance, vision and reaction time. According to a press release from the Department of Safety, sun, wind, noise, vibration and wave motion can intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs and some prescription medications.
All but four states — Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota and Pennsylvania — will take part in the national effort this weekend. Operation Dry Water is a joint program of the New Hampshire Marine Patrol, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the U.S. Coast Guard. More information is available at www.operationdrywater.org and on Facebook.