Something that many people don’t consider a serious issue is drinking aboard smaller watercraft. While the wide open stretches of New Jersey’s coastal areas and even those inland waterways may not seem to have the same “dangers” as Garden State roadways, there are similarities. And while small craft captains up and down the Jersey Shore know that boating season is here to stay for the next few months, it’s wise to remember also that New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) are watching for potential drunken boating.
Before one casts off and powers out into the surf, take time to be sure that all your safety equipment is in order and that your passengers are aware of emergency procedures. Meanwhile, scan the horizon because you are likely to find a sheriff patrol boat not far away. It’s sometimes difficult as a captain of a small vessel not to take part in the onboard revelry, but this is a potentially dangerous move, especially if alcohol is being served.
No matter where you may be cruising, from Cape May to Atlantic City or Sandy Hook, New Jersey State Police are constantly on the lookout for intoxicated boat operators. And, while boating offers a much more rewarding experience above and beyond that of driving the interstate, captains can be cited for DWI just the same as their land-based, four-wheel kin. Make no mistake, being arrested for boating under the influence (BUI, for short) can be just as costly an experience as drunken driving is on land.
As with driving under the influence in a passenger car, drunken boating is enforced by both local and state police agencies. Campaigns such as “Operation Dry Water” are designed to net unwary boaters who may have had a little too much to drink as they pilot their craft in and around the points and sounds of New Jersey’s coastline. Combined their manpower, New Jersey’s State Police and USCG can typically find drunk boat captains in a variety of waters, including bays and even off shore by up to three miles.
Some of the heaviest patrolled areas in the past have included Atlantic City and Cape May, based on past U.S. Coast Guard anti-BUI efforts. Setting up sobriety checkpoints, not unlike those found on dry land, the USCG and NJ State Police try to snare less than vigilant boaters and then check them to determine if they are operating their vessels while impaired by alcohol, prescription medication or even illegal drugs like marijuana.
Should a boat appear to be sailing in an erratic or questionable manner, it is not unusual for the authorities to request a captain to heave-to and prepare to be boarded by USCG or state patrol officers. In addition to routine BUI offenses, the USCG and state law enforcement officers tend to look for a boat that may be navigating carelessly or recklessly.
Here in the Garden State, boaters are subject to loss boating privileges for up to 12 months, not to mention possible loss of their automobile driver’s license as well. This includes three months suspension for a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more; and seven months for a BAC of 0.10 percent or more. It is important to note that although our state does not confiscate boats belonging to individuals who are arrested for BUI, many other states do, so be cautious where the current takes you.