FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WBOY) – As the Independence Day holiday weekend approaches, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking people to be smart before hitting the West Virginia waterways.

The holiday week is known as “Operation Dry Water” by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA). The operation’s goal is to bring awareness to boating while under the influence.

While most people think about drinking and driving as impaired driving, West Virginia DNR police want to remind others that you can be impaired in other ways.

The Monongahela River at Palatine Park in Fairmont. (WBOY Image)

“People can be impaired by things other than alcohol—drugs, including prescription medication. It’s not safe to go out there and operate a boat when you are impaired, and we are asking people not to do that,” Randall Kocsis, West Virginia Natural Resources Police Officer, said.

Officer Kocsis said he wanted to go his entire career without seeing a major incident involving boating while impaired. In his 10-year career, he said he can recall one instance in the Marion County waterways.

“Sadly, two summers ago, an individual was swimming in the Tygart River near the Bentons Ferry Bridge when he was struck by a motorboat being operated by an individual that was impaired by drugs and alcohol,” Officer Kocsis said. “The individual, unfortunately, sustained serious injuries and had to have part of a leg get amputated. The individual who was operating the vessel impaired, as well as the passenger aboard of that vessel, were charged criminally, and they were all convicted in Marion County Magistrate Court on a variety of charges.”

West Virginia Natural Resources Police (WBOY Image)

The new goal for Officer Kocsis is to have no major incidents from now until his retirement.

He also wanted to stress that the West Virginia DNR is not out to write as many citations as possible, but to educate boaters. He estimates that only about 10-15 citations are written.

Citations can range in consequences. According to Officer Kocsis, they can anywhere from $20 to $300 in fines and 10 to 100 days in jail. You also must pay the court costs of $175.

“It is almost always cheaper to follow the law,” he said. “The DNR wants people to be safe, and have fun. In that order.”

Officer Randall Kocsis of the West Virginia Natural Resources Police shows what boaters needed to be safe and legal on the West Virginia waters. (WBOY Image)

Officer Kocsis offered some tips and laws to follow while on the West Virginia waterways. They include:

  • Everyone is required to have a properly-fitting life vest that is U.S. Coast Guard approved and includes an audible signal (like a whistle) that can be heard from a half-mile away. This includes any kind of boat or floating device, including kayaks and canoes.
  • If your vessel is over 16 feet and is motorized, you are required to have a throwable floatation device that is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • If your vessel is motorized and uses gasoline, you are required to have a fire extinguisher aboard that is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • At night, your vessel is required to have a white light in the rear and red and green navigation lights. Officer Kocsis said this is usually the most popular violation over the Independence Day weekend, as many people make last minute decisions to watch the fireworks from the river at Palatine Park for the holiday.
  • Make a designated driver for your day on the water.