Operation Dry Water

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers will help enforce sober boating during Operation Dry Water this Fourth of July weekend.
CPW Officers
Operation Dry Water (ODW) is a year-round boating under the influence awareness and enforcement campaign. The 2023 national Operation Dry Water heightened awareness and enforcement three-day weekend will occur July 1 – 3, 2023.

This weekend, boaters heading out onto the water will see additional Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers enforcing boating under the influence (BUI) laws as part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign.

This enforcement operation is timed closely to July 4 each year to educate boaters on the dangers of boating under the influence and reduce the number of waterway accidents. Dangers include:

  • Alcohol impairs judgment, balance, vision and reaction time on the water, which can increase fatigue and the dangers of cold-water immersion.
  • Sun, wind, noise, vibration and motion are added factors in a boating environment. All of these intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs and some medications. A general rule to remember is that one drink on land is equivalent to three drinks on the water.
  • Alcohol can be dangerous for passengers too. Intoxication on board can cause injuries from slips, falls overboard and other dangerous accidents.

“Boating is a favorite pastime of Coloradans and visitors alike, but we want to make sure that everyone is enjoying their time on the water responsibly,” said Flatwater Criminal Investigator Brian Phillips. “Alcohol use is one of the leading contributing factors in recreational boating deaths in the country. We encourage boaters to boat smart, boat safe and boat sober.”

Operation Dry Water operations will include increased patrols and checkpoints. Penalties for boating under the influence include receiving fines, having your boat impounded, potential jail time and losing boating privileges. Boaters with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level above the .08 state limit should expect to be arrested for BUI. 

In Colorado, boaters must also take into account the risks that unpredictable weather can present while recreating on the water. Dangerous weather conditions include strong wind gusts that can knock a paddleboarder or kayaker into the water and cold water temperatures that exist year-round.

Boating Safety

Life jackets save lives. Last year was the deadliest year on Colorado waters, and the majority of fatalities occurred because people did not wear a life jacket. CPW advises the following boating safety tips before heading out onto the water.

  • Wear a life jacket
  • Be aware of weather and water conditions.
  • Protect yourself from the dangers of cold water shock. Regardless of your age or experience level, cold water can quickly create a drowning emergency.
  • Paddle boards and kayaks are considered vessels, and life jacket requirements apply. 
  • Follow boating speed limits and maintain a proper lookout to avoid hitting floating debris in waterways. 

River and Stream Safety

As of June 26, 2023, there have been 11 Swiftwater-related fatalities in Colorado. 

  • Wear a life jacket​ and helmet. 
  • Dress accordingly: though the air temperature may be hot, the water is very cold.
  • Check and scout the rapids and unknown sections of the river stretches you intend to run.
  • Water levels can rise quickly and without notice from heavy rain or snow melting in nearby mountains.
  • Do not underestimate the power of currents and overestimate your swimming abilities.
  • Don’t paddle in conditions you are not comfortable and confident paddling in.
  • Raft with a buddy and avoid floating alone, especially during high flows.
  • If you fall into swift water, do not attempt to stand up because your foot might get stuck in a rock. Point your feet down the river and swim to shore as soon as possible.
  • Never leave children unattended by a river.

For more information on boating safety, visit cpw.state.co.us.

Written by Bridget O’Rourke. Bridget is a Statewide Public Information Officer and Marketing and Communication Specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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