Watching the Waterways

Washington PA Observer Reporter
22 June 2012

Larry Furlong stepped into his career in marine law enforcement a decade ago, earning an immediate reputation for being tough on drunken boaters.

In 2004, not long after becoming full time at the state Fish & Boat Commission’s Southwest region based in Somerset, he arrested 14 people for boating under the influence of alcohol and made eight other arrests within two months.

“It kind of made my career,” Furlong said Thursday, one day before the U.S. Coast Guard launches a three-day nationwide crackdown on drunken boaters.

“I grew up in Pittsburgh and know what drunk people look like,” said Furlong, who now coordinates the state’s efforts to teach commission officers how to spot drunken boaters. He also last year was named Pennsylvania’s Boating Officer of the Year by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators. “I can tell by the way they handle their life jackets, their registration papers, whether or not they are drunk,” he said.

The national BUI effort named “Operation Dry Water” takes place a year after boating fatalities reached an all-time high in the United States, with BUI playing a lead role in their cause. There were 758 deaths from recreational boating accidents, and 149 of them involved alcohol, according to the Coast Guard. Four people died in Pennsylvania last year from BUI-related accidents.

Locally, Furlong said, commission officers will be conducting routine patrols as part of the effort. The Coast Guard in this region will focus its attention in Pittsburgh, said Lt. Alanna McGovern, the guard’s public affairs officer.

“We’re out there to educate,” McGovern said Thursday. “There really should be a separation between boating and alcohol.”

However, a Monongahela River marina owner who declined to be identified said nearly “everybody out there is drunk,” when told of the crackdown. “I’m going to tell everyone,” he said.

And, those types warnings always follow an advance notice about these BUI checks, Furlong said.

“If everybody knows about this, then they don’t leave the docks,” Furlong said.

Last year, the effort resulted in more than 43,000 boaters across the nation being checked for BUI and 325 arrests, McGovern said.

Federal law does not require marine police have a reason to stop a boater for a BUI check, Furlong said.

A person is considered under the influence with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. Those caught operating a vessel under the influence will find their voyage terminated and their boat impounded, the Coast Guard indicated in a news release. Penalties may include arrests, fines and loss of boating privileges, and even the suspension of driver’s licenses in some states.