The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and safety advocates are asking boaters to help keep everyone safe by not consuming alcohol or marijuana while out on the water — especially when operating a boat or paddlecraft.
As boaters prepare for the Fourth of July holiday, law enforcement agencies are preparing for Operation Dry Water — a nationally coordinated effort that focuses on boating-under-the-influence (BUI) awareness and enforcement.
Boaters will notice an increase in patrols across local waterways in Clallam County including the Straits of Juan De Fuca and Lake Sutherland, from July 2-4.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, boating under the influence is the leading known contributing factor in fatal recreational boating accidents.
In Washington state, it is illegal to use any substance that impairs a person’s ability to operate a boat. The law applies to all boats, including kayaks, canoes, stand up paddleboards, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office is asking boaters to consider the following:
• State law allows law enforcement officers to require boaters suspected of operating a boat while intoxicated to submit to a breath or blood test.
• Refusing to submit to a test is a civil infraction with a maximum fine of $2,050.
• The penalty for operating a boat under the influence is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and 364 days in jail.
• A BUI is considered a prior offense if there are later convictions for driving under the influence (DUI).
In Washington it is illegal to operate a vessel with a BAC level of .08 or higher — the same as it is to operate a vehicle.
“The accidents and tragedies that happen because individuals chose to drive drunk or impaired, on land or on the water, are preventable. The decision lies with the individual on whether they chose to operate a boat or vehicle while under the influence,” Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said in a June 30 press release.
“As law enforcement, it is our job to do all we can to ensure the safety of our recreational boaters and paddlers. That is why the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office is joining other states and agencies across the country to do our part in keeping boaters safe and preventing accidents related to boating under the influence.”
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office encourages boaters to enjoy the boating season to its full extent by boating sober, wearing a life jacket, and taking a boating education course.
Boaters can learn more about BUI laws in Washington state and about the risks of boating under the influence by visiting boatsober.org.
Sheriff’s office focuses on safety for paddlers
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office has been focusing on paddlesports this summer and has observed that only 25 percent of paddlers have been compliant with life jacket requirements, office representatives said this week.
Almost no paddlers have complied with the requirement to have a sound producing device onboard.
Life jackets and sound producing devices can save someon’es life if they end up in the eater, law enforcement officials said.
Deputies have had to terminate numerous voyages this summer due to non-compliance with safety equipment, they said.
Paddlesports continue to grow in popularity and so are fatal accidents involving paddlers. Since 2012, nearly half of all boating fatalities in Washington state involved paddlecraft.
The leading type of accident is capsizing and swamping. The leading cause of death is drowning.
In many cases, victims were not wearing life jackets.
“Paddlesports is one of the great ways to experience the spectacular views and outdoor recreation that the Olympic Peninsula has to offer its guests,” Chief Criminal Deputy Brian King said. “Because of the different levels of experience and ages involved with this type of activity, the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office would like to take a moment to remind everyone to also keep in mind their safety, the safety of others and the inherit dangers that can be present when participating in these types of water activities.
“That being said, I wish everyone participating an unforgettably fun and safe experience exploring everything the Olympic Peninsula has to offer within Clallam County.”
Paddlesport experts recommend the following safety tips for paddlers:
Know the laws and keep yourself and others safe. At a minimum, take a course to increase your knowledge of paddlesport safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. You can find classes through local clubs and outfitters, city and county parks and recreation departments and online.
Always wear a life jacket
State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand up paddleboards, to have at least one properly fitted Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. And all children, age 12 and younger, are always required to wear life jackets. Modern, comfortable life jackets are tailored specifically for paddlesports. No matter your age and skill level, you’re encouraged to wear a life jacket every time you go out on the water.
Carry essential gear
Carry the essentials for safety, emergency communications and comfort. State law requires boaters to carry a sound-producing device, such as a whistle — even on a stand up paddleboard. Professional paddlers recommend carrying a cell phone (in a waterproof bag) and, on coastal waters, a VHF marine radio. In addition to items required by law, you should wear sun protection and bring a headlamp with extra batteries, dry bag and hydrating fluids. Carry a bilge pump and an extra paddle. Other essentials depend on the type of waterway and length of trip and should be researched in advance.
Check and understand the weather
Check the weather frequently before and during your trip, keeping an eye on current conditions and forecasts. Check warnings, weather conditions, wind and wave forecasts, tides and current conditions or river flows. It’s important to understand how each of these elements affects your ability to operate your vessel. Seek information from locals in the know, heed any warnings and avoid navigating in unsafe areas. The National Weather Service (NOAA Weather Radio) broadcasts on marine band and standalone weather radios.
Protect against cold-water shock
Falling into water under 60 degrees is dangerous, and many of Washington’s waters remain below 60 degrees all year — including lakes and rivers — even during hot weather. The biggest risk is not hypothermia but cold-water shock, which occurs in the first stage of immersion. Paddlecraft have a higher risk of capsizing. Avoid cotton and wear synthetic materials when a wet or dry suit is not available. Be prepared and always wear a life jacket.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
Situational awareness is key for safety on the water. That means always staying alert. Operating any vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, is not only unsafe — it’s illegal. Washington state’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law applies to all boats including kayaks, canoes, stand up paddleboards, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts.
Be visible to other boaters
Paddlecraft sit low on the water, making them difficult for other boaters to see. Paddle to be seen: Wear bright neon and contrasting colors, put highly reflective tape on paddles, use a flagpole and carry a bright light.
File a float plan
Before you head out, study your intended route and let someone know your plans. Include names of everyone going, the planned route, what time you’re going and returning and what to do if you don’t return when expected. Make this a routine every time you go out on the water.
Label your paddlecraft
If you own paddlecraft, keep your contact information in your boat, on a sticker or in some other way. When empty paddlecraft are found adrift, it’s assumed someone is in danger and a search is launched. Calling the owner of a kayak or canoe found adrift can help prevent unnecessary searches and free up resources. Or, the call could help rescuers gather information that helps with the search. The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary provides free identification stickers at safe boating classes and other boating events. Understand and follow the U.S. Coast Guard’s “Navigation Rules of the Road.”
Follow social media
People can learn more about and participate in Paddle Safe Week through social media by using some of the following hashtags: #PaddleSafeWeek, #PaddleSmart, #PaddleSafe, #PaddleSober, #PaddlePrepared, #PaddleToBeSeen.