SARATOGA COUNTY – Alcohol was the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents in 2020, causing over 100 deaths and 18% of total fatalities, according to the U.S. Coast Guard 2020 Boating Safety Statistics Report.
Ahead of the July 4th holiday weekend, the Prevention Council of Saratoga County and local police departments alerted visitors to Saratoga Lake of the dangers of boating under the influence.
Thursday morning at Brown’s Beach in Saratoga Springs, members of the Stillwater Police Department, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, and the Prevention Council gathered to discuss water safety for the upcoming holiday weekend.
“[We] urge boaters to adhere this boating season, and help everyone stay safe by not drinking on the water or operating a boat after you have consumed alcohol,” said Amber Danaher, youth outreach coordinator for the Prevention Council.
Boaters can keep safe by designating a sober boat operator, ensuring the vessel contains enough personal flotation devices and completing a boater safety course before heading out on the water, according to Capt. Patrick Maswich of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department.
The Prevention Council, a nonprofit organization focused on preventing alcohol and other substance abuse, has put up lawn signs around the Brown’s Beach Marina describing to passersby the legal consequences of boating under the influence.
“Operating a recreational vessel with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher is against NYS law. Legal consequences: extensive fines, revocation of your license, and jail time,” the signs read.
The council has also put up four billboards around Saratoga County, which juxtaposes the image of an impaired boat operator with that of an impaired truck driver.
According to Danaher, these boater safety initiatives from the Prevention Council began last summer, when the organization adopted the national Operation Dry Water campaign of reducing alcohol and drug-related boating fatalities. The initiatives came at an important time, Danaher said, as data from the U.S. Coast Guard reported a 26.3% increase in boating accidents from 2019 to 2020, largely due to more boating activity during the pandemic.
Multiple Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department vessels will be patrolling the lake all weekend, focusing on busy no-wake zones, such as around the marina, and at the northern end of the lake, Deputy Sheriff Matt Ball said.
Though law enforcement will focus in part on checking boaters’ registrations, ensuring that boats are legal, and checking that boats have a sufficient supply of personal location devices or life preservers, some of the more difficult work will be identifying intoxicated boat drivers, Ball said.
“When you’re on the water, you can’t find that one boat that is not staying between the lines. The cues are a little bit different there. We’ll typically observe another boating infraction that brings us [to the boater],” he said.
There are some inconsistencies between the consequences of driving under the influence and boating under the influence, Ball added. Though the blood alcohol concentration limit is the same, 0.08, boaters do not automatically get their license revoked the way drivers do.
“Boating intoxication we go through the same process as a driving intoxication. The problem is the penalty is not the same, which it should be,” Ball said.
In addition to the partnership between the Prevention Council and the local police forces, DeCrescente Distributing Company, a beverage wholesale distributor based in Mechanicville, is contributing to the boater safety efforts. The company will provide free water, juice, and other nonalcoholic beverages to the designated sober boat operators for the weekend.
“It’s an opportunity for us as a wholesaler of non-alcoholic beverages to get involved. We thought it would be beneficial to reward the boaters that are doing the safe practices,” said Carmine DeCrescente, vice president of the company.
According to DeCrescente, designated drivers can tell the marina supervisor, Bob Morris, that they will be operating as a sober driver, and they will be given a handful of free nonalcoholic beverages.
As is typical for holiday weekends, the city of Saratoga Springs and local police department anticipate that visitors to Saratoga Lake will increase exponentially this upcoming weekend. “The lake is going to explode this weekend,” said Sergeant Ray Cordani of the Stillwater Police.
“We encourage visitors to come and enjoy [the lake],” Cordani said, “but we want you to do it responsibly.”