Boating Under the Influence (BUI) — A Deadly Risk We Must Actively Address


By NDAA’s National Traffic Law Center Staff

As the 4th of July, a day synonymous with celebrations and gatherings, draws near, we are reminded of a more sobering aspect associated with this holiday. The 4th of July stands as one of the deadliest days on our nation’s waters, largely due to the prevalence of Boating Under the Influence (BUI). As we anticipate this year’s celebrations, the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), in collaboration with the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) and the U.S. Coast Guard, urges the community to remain vigilant about the dangers of BUI.

Addressing BUI: The Critical Role of Prosecutors

The 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics Report by the U.S. Coast Guard highlighted the urgency of addressing BUI. The report noted 636 boating fatalities nationwide in 2022, with alcohol use being a leading known contributing factor.[i] This data underscores the need for increased awareness, enforcement, and prosecution of BUI offenses.

In our shared pursuit of safer waterways, the role of the prosecutor is crucial. Prosecutors are uniquely positioned to help deter potential offenders by ensuring that those who endanger others through BUI face significant legal consequences. To bolster the capacity to handle BUI cases effectively, the NDAA in cooperation with NASBLA is developing a comprehensive ‘Prosecuting the BUI’ curriculum. This program will provide prosecutors with the resources, tools, and strategies necessary to successfully prosecute BUI offenses.

Promoting Safety with Operation Dry Water

In response to the high incidence of BUI related accidents and fatalities, NASBLA developed a national three-day heightened awareness and enforcement campaign called Operation Dry Water (ODW). This year’s campaign will take place nationwide, from July 1–3, 2023, and will target operators who choose to boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Prosecutors are pivotal in supporting local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies during this time. By diligently prosecuting cases arising from the campaign, prosecutors send a clear message about the severity of BUI offenses.

Meeting the Demand for Safety in the Face of Boating’s Popularity

Recreational boating has seen a surge in popularity, with a 35% increase in annual economic activity between 2018 and 2023, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). [ii] With over 85 million people estimated to be on the water this summer, the role of prosecutors in maintaining safety standards and enforcing BUI laws becomes increasingly important. Through diligent prosecution of BUI offenses, we can contribute significantly to the safety of these boating enthusiasts and their families.

We urge all prosecutors to support the 2023 Operation Dry Water campaign and actively contribute to raising awareness about the dangers of BUI. Our collective action can have a substantial impact, helping to ensure that our nation’s waters remain safe for all to enjoy. As prosecutors, we are in a unique position to influence safety on our waterways. By ensuring the effective prosecution of BUI offenses, we can promote responsible boating and contribute to a safer environment for all.

[i] 2022 Recreational Boating Statistics Report |U.S. Coast Guard
[ii] Report: Recreational Boating Boom Continues as Americans turn to the Water in Wake of Covid-19 Pandemic | NMAA.ORG



National District Attorneys Association

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.