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Legislation increases drinking and boating penalties for prior BUI convictions

The Fourth of July weekend is fast-approaching, and people planning to head onto the water may want to rethink their plans if they're drinking as well.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On the Fourth of July, some people are planning to take their celebrations onto the water. However, they could face stiffer penalties this year if they drink and sail.

Last summer, legislation went into effect that makes the penalties for boating under the influence the same as driving under the influence. People can also face harsher consequences if they are caught boating and drinking with a BUI already on their record, under a new law.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said they started Operation Dry Water — a campaign to increase enforcement and education about boating and drinking. TWRA could have a stronger presence on lakes and rivers over the Fourth of July weekend as part of the campaign, keeping an eye out for anyone boating dangerously.

"A large number of our boat accidents involve alcohol or drugs in some form or fashion," TWRA Officer Jeff Roberson said. "It's our goal to remove those impaired operators before they become another statistic in a crash or a fatality."

Credit: WBIR

The legal blood-alcohol limit is 0.08% for both driving and boating. As a rule of thumb, three drinks per hour could put an average person close to crossing the legal limit.

All boaters should also be wearing a life jacket on the water, and anyone under 12 years old should have a floatation device when the boat is moving. Boats should also have emergency kits and marine-grade fire extinguishers available.

"We're out patrolling and looking for any unsafe activity — kids without life jackets, boats operating recklessly," Roberson said. "Most of our stops are an educational thing, but occasionally they result in a citation or arrest."

He said their goal is to help everyone stay safe on the water, especially during busy times like the Fourth of July weekend.

"We want everybody to come out and have a safe and enjoyable time," he said. "But, we do want you to have that designated driver and just be courteous and pay attention to the other boaters in your area."

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