JACKSON, Wyo. — The water is a popular place to be on Independence Day, but the festive mood is exactly what makes safety precautions extra important, officials say.

Wyoming Game and Fish is reminding boaters to stay safe and sober on the water. Game and Fish will patrol Wyoming waterways over the Fourth of July weekend and will issue citations for boating under the influence (BUI).

“Boating impaired can put everyone at risk. It is as deadly as driving under the influence,” said Aaron Kerr, Game and Fish law enforcement coordinator. “At any given moment, there are individuals on the water, on paddleboards, or in other boats who trust boat operators to be alert and in control of their vessel. People’s lives depend on it.”

Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths and boating crashes, Game and Fish says. The legal blood-alcohol concentration limit is the same on a boat as it is in a car: 0.08.

Game and Fish encourages boaters to avoid drinking alcohol while on the water or operating a boat after they have consumed alcohol. The use of both legal and illegal drugs also impairs judgment and reaction time and makes it dangerous to operate a boat.

“Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion are common stressors on the water and they can intensify the side effects of alcohol, drugs and some medications,” Kerr said. “Drinking a small amount can have greater impacts to judgement, balance, vision and reaction time.”

To encourage safety, Game and Fish is participating in the annual Operation Dry Water heightened awareness and enforcement weekend, July 2-4. This three-day weekend is a national weekend of increased enforcement of boating-under-the-influence laws and recreational boater outreach.

As part of Operation Dry Water, law enforcement will be on the water informing boaters about safe boating practices and removing impaired operators.

Boaters should also plan to bring the required safety equipment this upcoming holiday:

  • A life jacket for each individual on board. Life jackets must be properly-sized, U.S. Coast Guard approved and in good condition. They cannot be waterlogged, torn or have straps broken or missing. Life jackets also need to be readily accessible to the passengers on board. Children 12 years old and under are required to wear a life jacket while the boat is underway unless they are inside an enclosed cabin.
  • A minimum of one U.S. Coast Guard-approved throwable flotation device, which includes ring buoys and float cushions, aboard boats 16 feet and longer.
  • A proper fire extinguisher on any boat with an inboard engine, permanently installed fuel tank, closed living space, double bottoms that are not sealed to the hull or compartments that store fuel tanks or other combustible materials. Multiple extinguishers may be needed depending on the size of the boat.
  • Navigation lights are required when boating from sunset to sunrise. All motorized boats are required to display a red and a green light to represent the port (left) and starboard (right) sides, as well as a white light that is visible 360 degrees when underway. Again, the types of lights required differ based on the size of the boat.

These are all things that are legally required. But there’s more to add to your safety checklist. Boaters should also pack extra layers, food, water, a headlamp, a first aid kit, a throw rope, a whistle, sun protection, and a repair kit. Even seemingly mellow stretches of river can be braided, unpredictable, and dangerous. Boaters should prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

To safely operate a motorized watercraft, all operators must be at least 16 years old, obey any buoys or markers in the water, and avoid reckless or careless operation.

Stay safe and sharp on the water this weekend.


Shannon is a Wyoming-raised writer and reporter. She just completed a master's in journalism from Boston University. Jackson shaped her into an outdoorswoman, but a love for language and the human condition compels her to write. She believes there's no story too small to tell nor adventure too small to take.