State wildlife officials are warning people to not drink and operate a boat this holiday weekend.
Captain Todd Radabaugh is with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. That's the agency that handles reports of impaired boating incidents. Radabaugh said boaters are especially vulnerable under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Most people just operate their boats on weekends or holidays, so when you combine that relative inexperience with alcohol or any other impairing substance it can be a recipe for disaster,” Radabaugh said.
State officials reported 23 fatal boating accidents last year. Under a state law now in effect, impaired boaters who cause fatal accidents are charged with a felony. A House bill currently under consideration would also add minimum jail time.
Radabaugh said some boaters don't know about the law that makes fatal accidents while boating impaired a felony.
“No matter what you are operating, be it a boat or a car, driving while impaired is a serious crime,” he said. “And when you do that, you put the lives of all your community members at risk. So we just want to educate the public and tell them, ‘Hey, if your plans include alcohol or other substances, have a plan’.”
That plan should include designating a sober operator, Radabaugh said. He also recommends checking boats for safety equipment, especially during the first use of the season.