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Minnesota safety officials plan for enhanced enforcement of boating safety laws

State and local agencies are participating again in a campaign to tamp down on boating while intoxicated.

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Lt. Adam Block speaks at a press event at Lake Minnetonka, Minn., on July 1, 2021. Matthew Guerry / Forum News Service
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MINNETONKA, Minn. — Public safety officers across Minnesota will once again take part over the weekend in a nationwide campaign to tamp down on boating under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

The plan for additional safety patrols this Independence Day was announced Thursday, July 1, on the heels of a deadly few weeks on state waters. At least nine people died in boating accidents in Minnesota by mid-June, a figure not seen at that point in years past for over a decade.

It also comes after a year during which nine of the state's 16 boating fatalities were found to have involved alcohol.

"That's extraordinarily concerning. And we're not just talking about numbers. We're talking about people who have lost loved ones. They've endured life changing injuries," Lt. Adam Block, boating law administrator for the state Department of Natural Resources, said at a news conference.

Called "Operation Dry Water," the three-day enforcement campaign is organized annually by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and will officially begin Friday, July 2. In Hennepin County, the most populous in Minnesota, Sheriff David Hutchinson said Thursday that he would have five times the usual number of deputies on duty this weekend.

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"We're working overtime. Pretty much all of my agency is freed up and is going to be on the lakes and on the rivers," he told reporters gathered by Lake Minnetonka. "We don't want to arrest anybody. We're not the fun police. But we're going to arrest you if you're causing problems and we don't want any more fatalities on our lakes and rivers."

State laws on impaired motorboat operation mirror those for motor vehicles, although they do not forbid drinking onboard a boat or open containers. Operating a boat with a blood alcohol concentration at or above the .08 limit, for example, can result in penalties ranging from fines to jail time.

In Minnesota, those found guilty of boating while intoxicated can also lose their driver's licenses or off-road vehicle privileges. Refusing sobriety tests in the state can also result in more severe criminal charges and an automatic one-year suspension of all vehicle operating privileges.

Operating one type of vehicle under the influence has been punishable by the loss of operating privileges for all others in Minnesota since 2018. That was the year the Minnesota Legislature passed "Little Alan's Law," named for a Chisago County youth who was struck and killed by a snowmobiler later found guilty on DWI charges.

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