USCG’s Operation Dry Water and flare warning for this holiday weekend

Updated to include information about flares.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read.

Kodiak boaters can expect to see an increased law enforcement presence on waters around the island and throughout Alaska this holiday weekend.

The Coast Guard in partnership with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are preparing for Operation Dry Water July 3-5.

Operation Dry Water is a national campaign focused on reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related incidents. The operation focuses on spreading awareness of the danger of boating under the influence as well as changing the cultural acceptance of boating while intoxicated.

Chief Warrant Officer Thad Wagner with the Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Enforcement Division said QUOTE “Every year in the United States we see boating accidents that could have been prevented had alcohol or drug use not been involved.” UNQUOTE

Now that recreational marijuana has been legalized in Alaska, boaters should still be aware that the drug is considered a controlled substance by the federal government. Boaters in federal waters in possess may be found in violation of federal law, a civil penalty that could result in a fine up to $5000.

Alcohol use continues to be the leading known contributing factor in recreational boating-related deaths: 19 percent of deaths in 2018; 23 percent in 2019. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is against federal law.  Penalties could include terminating the voyage, impounding the boat, and even arresting the boat operator. Impairment can be especially dangerous for boaters since most boaters have less experience and confidence operating a boat than they do driving a car.

Also, the Coast Guard would like to remind Alaska boaters not to use flares as fireworks aboard their vessels as part of Fourth of July celebrations this weekend.

Fireworks can be mistaken as distress signals, and flares should only be fired to indicate distress in an emergency situation.

”Every Fourth of July, Coast Guard personnel receive and respond to numerous false flare sighting reports,” said Lt. Cmdr. Lisa Hatland, District 17 command center chief. “It can be quite challenging to distinguish emergencies from those celebrating, and each report requires considerable man-power to determine exactly where the flare originated and whether or not someone needs help there. With the increase of maritime traffic over the weekend, actual maritime emergencies are highly probable. Firing a flare in a non-emergency situation could result in delayed Coast Guard response to a legitimate maritime emergency in a different location.”

It is a federal crime for anyone to knowingly and willfully communicate a false distress message to the Coast Guard. This includes but is not limited to firing flares in a non-distress situation or saying “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” for a radio check.

The felony offense is punishable by up to ten years in prison, up to a $250,000 criminal fine, a $10,000 civil fine, and reimbursement to the Coast Guard for the cost of performing the search.

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