In Pennsylvania and across the U.S., alcohol is the leading cause of boating-related deaths, and July is typically the deadliest month of the year. Through enforcement and public education, the PA Fish and Boat Commission has cut Pennsylvania’s fatality rate in half in recent years. But with post-pandemic outdoor recreation still surging, there are more people on the water than ever, many of them for the first time.
Ahead of the July 4th holiday weekend, Pittsburgh hosts the nationwide kickoff of Operation Dry Water, a sober-boating campaign organized by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and supported by local law enforcement and public safety agencies in every state.
In an effort to ensure a safe and responsible Fourth of July, state officials have launched Operation Dry Water. That means the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other agencies will have heightened enforcement on the water, focusing on impaired boaters.
This is part of an annual campaign to improve public safety during what’s expected to be a busy holiday weekend on Pennsylvania waterways.
“Independence Day is a time for celebration, but before heading out to these celebrations we urge Pennsylvanians to keep safety in mind,” said PennDOT Executive Deputy Secretary Cheryl Moon-Sirianni during a kickoff event at Point State Park in Pittsburgh. “If your celebration includes alcohol, plan ahead by designating a sober driver or arranging for alternate transportation. Never drive impaired.”
Alcohol continues to be the biggest contributing factor in fatal boating accidents boating deaths in the U.S. Last year, 88 people died and 148 people were injured in alcohol-related boating incidents.
“If you’re going to drink and boat, there is going to be someone watching,” warned Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission.
There were 45 boating-under-the-influence arrests across Pennsylvania in 2022, according to data from the Fish and Boat Commission.
Officials also will be checking to make sure people follow necessary safety measures. This means wearing a life jacket, biding by no-wake zones, and not anchoring in the channels.
“Everyone must be within 100 feet on either side of the walls staying out of the main channel, so if you’re going to raft off to each other, it’s important not to go too far to impede normal vessel traffic,” said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Christian DiPaolo. “That’s not only important to our recreational boaters but also our commercial boaters.”
Off the water, Pennsylvania State Patrol and local law enforcement will have checkpoints and roving patrols checking for impaired drivers. Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) reminds people that possessing, selling or consuming alcoholic beverages is prohibited on DCNR lands, with the exception of specially designated facilities operated or leased by the department.
“Whether in transit to and from our beautiful public lands or using a motorized vehicle to recreate, we encourage all visitors to be responsible as we celebrate this nation’s independence,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said in a press release. “Many of the worst reported accidents occur when people do not follow guidelines in place, which is why we encourage visitors to always practice safe behavior when taking in nature in state parks and forests.”
For information on traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed, and traffic camera footage, visit www.511PA.com. This information is also available through the 511PA smartphone app, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts from PennDOT.