Operation Dry Water cracks down on drunk boaters

WALWORTH CO. (WITI) -- Boaters on Lake Beulah had extra eyes on them Saturday, June 29th, as police officers and state DNR wardens patrolled the waters during Operation Dry Water.

The federal program, in its fifth year, is aimed at catching drunk boat operators.

"If you look at historically, the number of accidents we have in boating, especially fatal boating accidents, about a fifth involve alcohol use," DNR Safety Warden Kyle Drake said.

In Wisconsin it's legal to have open alcohol containers on a boat, and authorities can't stop someone just because they suspect they're drunk.

"If the boat's wild and crazy and they're doing stupid stuff, maybe then - but the fact somebody's got a beer is not reason enough to stop them," Drake said.

Many on the water believe drunk boating used to be a much bigger problem than it is today.

"I'd say 20 years ago, there'd be people literally throwing beer cans out of their boats and it was too many skiers, too many people on the lake," an individual on the lake Saturday told FOX6 News.

Statistics in Wisconsin back up those beliefs.

"Last year, out of the fatal boating accidents in Wisconsin, 17% involved alcohol use - which is our all time low," Groppi said.

337 drunk boating incidents were reported nationwide during Operation Dry Water 2012. Authorities issued more than 14,000 tickets and warnings.