LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WATE)– As Operation Dry Water is underway over the holiday weekend, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers are in full force on the water, looking for boaters driving intoxicated–and those boaters are now facing stricter penalties.
“It’s an annual thing. Usually around 4th of July. This is kind of the peak of our boating I guess, usually, it’s our busiest time of the year for boating,” TWRA Officer Anthony Chitwood said.
Chitwood said nothing is different for officers this year, except that he said there are more new boaters out on the water since the pandemic.
He said officers always look for people boating while intoxicated, especially on busy holiday weekends like the 4th of July.
However, it is different for boaters this year if they’re caught driving the boat while being intoxicated.
“The BUI penalties (are) in line with driving under the influence on the road,” Chitwood said.
Lawmakers passed a new law which went into effect July 1: boaters convicted of driving the boat while under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substance will spend at least 48 hours in jail.
“In my years of doing this, I’ve never had somebody go to jail after a BUI conviction. It’s usually just been paying fines and stuff,” Chitwood said.
Chitwood said the law also applies to a boating accident that results in injuries and fatalities, meaning an impaired boater can be charged with vehicular assault or vehicular homicide charges.
During Operation Dry Water, Chitwood said they aren’t only looking for BUIs; they’re also looking for safety violations in general, such as children not wearing flotation devices, boats not being registered and drivers not having their boating license.
“Yeah we’re out looking for people operating under the influence, but we usually find that when we’re addressing this other stuff,” Chitwood said.
Plus, with more boats on the water, there are more chances for accidents, so it’s good TWRA officers will be on the water and prepared, according to Chitwood.
“Tubing accidents, skiing accidents, collisions between multiple vessels, boat fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, stuff, I mean, there’s a full gambit. We never know what we’re gonna get into,” Chitwood said.
With more officers on the water, Chitwood hopes boaters will play it safe and follow the rules, while still having a good time.
“People know we’re out here. We’re going to be here. We’ve got, we pull the big mobile command center up out here, so everyone sitting out on the lake can look over here and see that we have a presence here,” Chitwood said.
He said boaters need to have common sense on the water and follow the rules of the ‘road.’
If boaters do that, he said hopefully the weekend will be a safe one.
“They just think we’re out here to ruin fun, but fun can turn into not fun really quick, so, you know we try to of course avoid that and just sometimes just seeing us will help people maybe turn that corner into making a better decision,” Chitwood said.