Officials patrol Wisconsin waters for drunken boaters - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Officials patrol Wisconsin waters for drunken boaters

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LAKE DUBAY (WAOW) -

Warm weather and the upcoming Fourth of July holiday means plenty of people will be spending time outside.

Officials across the state want to make sure they stay safe.

Over the weekend, law enforcement officials and the Department of Natural Resources are keeping an eye out for people who are operating a boat while intoxicated.

DNR officials are patrolling Lake Du Bay, in search of people who may be boating under the influence.

"If you're not on top of your game, you can get in trouble in a hurry," said Barry Meister, DNR Conservation Warden.

It's part of a nationwide effort called Operation Dry Water.

"To try to reduce the number of impaired boat operators out there on the water, with education and of course, with enforcement," said Meister.

DNR conservation wardens Barry Meister and Jon Scharbarth spend seven to 12 hours, per shift on the water, keeping watch.

"Some people equate recreation with alcohol and we kind of have to get through that mentality," said Meister.

DNR officials said since the start of Operation Dry Water in 2009, they've seen the number of alcohol-related fatalities decrease.

They said since the program's launch, alcohol-related deaths on the water have dropped nationwide from 19% to 17%.

"I think boaters awareness is at a much higher level than it used to be," said Meister.

Last year, law enforcement officers arrested 11 people for boating while intoxicated.

They also issued more than 700 citations and warnings to boaters in Wisconsin.

Meister said breaking the law is costly.

"Anywhere from $150 all the way up to $600 or better," said Meister.

Scharbarth said it can cost more than money.

"Most of the time what happens is people get thrown into the water, and they don't have a life jacket on and they're disoriented, or maybe they hit their head, or whatever, and they end up drowning," said Jon Scharbarth, DNR Conservation Warden.

Both Meister and Scharbarth said officials will stop anyone they think could be breaking the law.

But the water patrols won't stop once the Fourth of July is over.

Officials said they'll continue to watch for violators all summer long.

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