Erie County Sheriff’s Office launching Operation Dry Water campaign

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – As the revitalization of Buffalo’s waterfront continues, we’re seeing more and more boaters hitting the water. You can also expect to see an increased presence of Sheriff’s deputies cracking down on anyone who is boating while intoxicated.

Starting this weekend, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office is making an extra push for education and enforcement as part of the nationwide Operation Dry Water campaign.

“The purpose of this is not to make more arrests. The purpose of this is to encourage people, don’t make bad choices,” Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard said.

It is not against the law to consume alcohol on a boat. It is against the law to operate a boat while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Just as it is when you’re driving a car, you’re considered over the legal limit if you have a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. “It’s a danger to the public. We’re out here to make sure the waterways are just as safe as roadways,” said Deputy Sheriff Mike Okal.

Sheriff’s deputies patrol the waterways seven days a week on two vessels in teams of three. The Sheriff’s Office also is adding another boat to its fleet soon.

The Sheriff’s Marine Unit will be out in force this weekend distributing pamphlets and posters to area marinas to help educate people about the Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) laws. The concentrated on-water campaign with enhanced BWI patrols on Lake Erie, the Buffalo and Niagara rivers, and the Erie Barge Canal starts Friday, June 30.

In the 2016 boating season, the Sheriff’s Marine Unit made ten BWI arrests, and issued many summonses. BWI offenders face up to 30 days in jail.

Sheriff Howard points out alcohol continues to be a major contributing factor in many boating accidents, and alcohol tends to hit you a little harder when you’re out on the water. “There is an indication that consumption of alcohol while on a vessel because of the movement of the vessel and what it’s doing to your balance and equilibrium, has a way of compounding the effects of drinking,” he explained. “So it’s just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, to drink and then operate a vessel.”

Effective November 1, 2016, New York State strengthened the penalties for BWI, making it so a BWI offender will have all Driving While Intoxicated convictions from the past five years taken into consideration during BWI sentencing. The BWI penalties are now similar to those for DWI and DWI-drugs.

The enforcement period for Operation Dry Water is June 30-July 2. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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