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Operation Dry Water

Operation Dry Water: As Summer Approaches, Southcoast Criminal Defense Attorney Cautions Boaters That Law Enforcement Will Be Out In Force Looking For Boaters Under The Influence

This Summer, as always, boaters in the waters off of the Southcoast of Massachusetts will be soaking up the sun, and enjoying the fun, exhilaration, and the freedom boating provides. Nationally, the weekend of June 24th through June 26th is known as “Operation Dry Water.” Operation Dry Water is a national campaign designed to raise awareness of safe boating practices and to crack down, hard, on boating under the influence (BUI). Southcoast criminal defense attorney Ken van Colen, an accomplished captain himself, cautions boaters to operate their vessels safely all summer, and especially during the weekend of June 24-26 when law enforcement officers will be patrolling Southcoast waters looking to make arrests for BUI.

BUI is a serious criminal offense. In Massachusetts, a person violates the law by operating a vessel under the influence or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or above. Furthermore, boaters may not operate under the influence of marijuana or other narcotics. The law is very similar to driving under the influence, or DUI, with a very important exception. The law does not permit the charge of BUI to be placed on file or to be continued without a finding (CWOF). That means, if convicted, the charge will always be on your criminal record. In contrast, a person charged with DUI can be given a CWOF, meaning the charge will be dismissed after a specified period passes without any trouble, and a conviction never appears on the criminal record.

Punishments for BUI are harsh. A person convicted of BUI faces a 2 1/2 year jail sentence and a fine ranging between $100 and $1,000 for a first offense. The person convicted of BUI will lose his or her driver’s license for one year but may have it returned after 45 days if the person becomes enrolled in an alcohol awareness program and a safe boating program. Furthermore, the law allows a judge to sentence a person to probation for not more than two years instead of jail with an order to complete the safe boating as well as complete appropriate alcohol-related educational classes.

Subsequent offenses are punished more harshly. For example, a second offense is punished by a minimum mandatory 60-day jail sentence (unless an alternative sentence of attending a 14 day in-patient program is accepted). Subsequent offenses are not limited to BUI. Any previous sentences requiring a person to attend a driver’s alcohol education class would count as a subsequent offense. There is no limitation on when the previous offense was committed. Therefore, boaters who have previous DUI sentences must be cautious when operating a boat because a conviction for a subsequent offense requires the court to sentence the person to minimum mandatory jail time.

Massachusetts’ implied consent law applies to boaters in the same manner as motor vehicle operators. Any person operating a boat on the waters of the Commonwealth automatically consents to take a breath test if the officer believes the person is BUI. The boater has the right to refuse to submit to a breath test. However, the person’s right to operate a boat will be revoked, and his license to operate a motor vehicle will be suspended for 180 days or longer.

It is important to remember that boaters do not have the same rights when boating as they enjoy when driving a car. Safe boating is of paramount importance to law enforcement. Consequently, law enforcement officers have the authority to signal a vessel to stop for no reason at all. The officer can board a recreational vessel to inspect the safety equipment, registration, and identify the operator. The officer need not wait to see if the operator committed an infraction such as operating with malfunctioning equipment or operating to endanger before coming aboard to inspect the craft. The officer is free to make any observations he or she wishes during the inspection. Those observations include the presence of alcoholic beverages on board, the demeanor of the operator, and whether the operator is showing signs of intoxication. A law enforcement officer will look for common signs of intoxication such as watery, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, the odor of alcohol on operator’s breath and unclear thinking. The presence of one or more of these indicators gives the officer probable cause to arrest the operator for BUI.

Have Fun But Remain Vigilant.

A boater should use extreme caution when boating. It is easy to relax and have a couple of drinks while on the water. Just remember that while you are on the water, law enforcement officers are closely watching especially, during the first weekend of summer. If you or a loved one encountered police on the water, call Southcoast criminal defense attorney Ken van Colen. Attorney van Colen will fight to protect your rights every step of the way. Call 508-679-1200 for a free consultation and learn how Attorney van Colen can make the difference for you.

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