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DNR steps up patrols for those under the influence
Department of Natural Resources Sgt. Mike Burgamy makes a routine stop Friday afternoon on Lake Lanier to check a boat for required safety vests. Burgamy found the boat in compliance with safety regulations.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources wants to send boaters a message that it is serious about safety.

This weekend, DNR law enforcement officers will be participating in a nationally coordinated event called Operation Dry Water, which is meant to draw attention to the dangers of boating while intoxicated.

During the weekend, DNR officers will set up check points and patrol Lake Lanier looking for people who are operating boats under the influence.

“They’ll set up a sobriety check point, stop and check vessels, check the operators for operating under the influence of not only
alcohol but drugs as well, whether it be illegal or prescription, in conjunction with the other things we check for — safety equipment, registration, those types of things,” said Sgt. Mike Burgamy of the Department of Natural Resources.

Burgamy said Operation Dry Water is an effort to get the message out that it’s never OK to drink and drive, regardless of if you are on the road or in the water.

“(People) look at the boating environment as recreation and it’s not taken as serious, when in fact it should be taken more serious,” Burgamy said. “Think about this: no traffic control devices, no lanes of travel, boats can travel in 360 degrees. So along with the elements of the weather — wind, wave action and sun — all those things are taken for granted. ... Alcohol magnifies that effect on your body.”

If a person is involved in an accident, they can be charged with boating under the influence if they have a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 0.08 percent. During a routine stop, boat operators can be charged if they have a blood alcohol concentration that exceeds 0.1 percent.

A BUI is a misdemeanor crime. Penalties include a $1,000 fine or a year in jail and the possible loss of boating privileges, Burgamy said.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 17 percent of deaths from recreation boating accidents involve impaired boaters.

“You’re not only putting yourself at risk, but you’re putting the general public at risk as well. If you’re carrying passengers it’s that much more of a risk,” Burgamy said. “BUI needs to be taken seriously. We will be aggressively enforcing it this weekend.”

In his 17 years on Lake Lanier, Burgamy said he has seen a shift in behavior when it comes to drinking and boating.

“Within the last five years we have really noticed an increase in designated operators,” he said. “I think the message is finally getting out that BUI is serious and we take it as such. There’s still alcohol on the boats, but a little more responsibility is being taken.”

Burgamy said this year, fuel is affordable and the lake is full, which leads to a busy summer for the Department of Natural Resources.

“The biggest challenge we have is manpower. We’re short staffed,” Burgamy said.

Just like other law enforcement agencies, the DNR will be out in force with more aggressive patrols over the July 4 weekend.

“We try to plan for the major holiday weekends by bringing in a little extra manpower,” Burgamy said.

But Burgramy said the goal of the patrols is to encourage responsible behavior.

“It’s not about making the arrests, it’s about getting the safe message out,” Burgamy said. “We’d rather arrest someone for boating under the influence than have to go home and tell their family they’ve been killed in a boating accident.”