By C.L. Harmon/Publisher

It’s the last thing anyone thinks about as they are loading up the boat and the jet skis for a weekend of fun in the sun at the lake. But for those entrusted with our safety on the lakes in the state, it’s the only thought they have.

As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, the Oklahoma Highway Troopers Marine officers are vividly recounting the many bodies that they have dragged and dove for over the years in efforts to recover them from the dark depths of the state’s lakes and rivers. It’s a sad thought Trooper Ryan Griffith expressed to realize that a simple decision such as a personal flotation device or moment of common sense to put the alcohol away can save a life time of grief to those left behind.

It’s too late after a trooper is called to be “reactive to a tragedy when a proactive act could have saved a life.” Proactive is a concept that is buzzing this time of year for law enforcement. Warm weather, holidays and fun will often include alcohol and a relaxed feeling of letting caution fall to the wayside. To compensate for these factors, OHP will be initiating “Operation Dry Water”, which is a DUI checkpoint on water.

The operation begins on June 24. Griffith explained that most people do not realize the statistics pertaining to water-related injuries and fatalities. Nor do they understand how the water dynamic amplifies our actions and reactions to situations in the water. For instance, it is proven that alcohol can have three times the effect on the body on the water than it does on land or in an indoor environment. In addition, there are what is called “environmental stressors”, which play a role on our bodies, according to a National Safe Boating Council Video. It explains how the sun, wind, noise, movement of the boat and dehydration cause fatigue, slower reaction times and a diminished thought process when it comes to making decisions on the water.

As for alcohol and the law on the water,Griffith explained that it’s not against the law to drink or transport alcohol on the water, but if someone has any alcohol intake, they should not operate a boat or jet ski. There is a stipulation to this, however. Any beverage that contains 3.2 percent alcohol or below is considered a “non-intoxicating beverage” in Oklahoma and can be consumed in public. Anything above that percentage, such as what can be purchased at a liquor store is illegal to consume in public. These higher content alcohols are what troopers will be looking for as well as behavior that is indicative of someone being drunk.

Although 3.2 beer is legal to consume in public, Griffith reiterated that the environmental stressors increase the effectiveness of any alcoholic beverage in the body. Thus, if a person is involved in a boating crash or arrested for Operating Under the Influence (OUI) and their blood is tested for alcohol concentration; the fact that the person only drank 3.2 beer won’t matter because they may still be legally intoxicated. “About one-third of the accidents on the water are alcohol related in Oklahoma,” Griffith said. “That is a conservative number too because these are only the accidents that are reported to the OHP and then sent on the United States Coast Guard,” he added.

He explained that there are many accidents that happen at city lakes that do not get reported to the Coast Guard. “Even if you take alcohol out of the equation, the environmental stressors alone tax the fire out of your body. Anyone who has spent a day on the water can testify how worn out they are just from being out there in that environment,” he said.

To push their proactive stance on safety, the OHP does several safety related courses such as safe boating and general water safety, which are free. Griffith said, he will even come to them if ten or more people are willing to attend. In addition, being seen on the lake by boaters is important. He explained that just the visibility of law enforcement makes an impact. to inquire about a safety talks or call (918) 627-0440 or (580) 336-9880) There have been three water-related fatalities this year thus far. Last year there were 27 drownings, 36 OUI arrests, 58 collisions, 34 of which were injury crashes with 14 fatalities and 40 injuries within those crashes, Griffith said.