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Going boating over Memorial Day weekend? Designate a sober operator

Posted May 23, 2018

What to expect when stopped by an officer on the water

PHOENIX — If time on the lake is part of your Memorial Day weekend plans, stay safe by always designating a sober operator. The holiday weekend is a popular time for Arizonans to enjoy the state’s waterways, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) wants to remind all boaters to be safe.

“If alcohol is being consumed on your boat, it’s extremely important that you have a sober operator,” said Tim Baumgarten, boating law administrator for AZGFD. “Not only will this be safer for you and your passengers, it will create a safer atmosphere for everyone on the water.”

Although the legal limit for operating a boat in Arizona is a .08 blood-alcohol concentration, an operator is in violation of the law and may be prosecuted for operating a watercraft while impaired to the slightest degree by alcohol and/or drugs. AZGFD officers and those with partner agencies patrol the state’s waterways and may stop boaters who are not following the rules of navigation or operating recklessly.

When hailed by an officer on the water, the process is similar to being pulled over while driving a vehicle. The operator must stop his or her boat immediately and allow the officer to pull up alongside it. The officer will ask to see the boat registration, and the operator should be prepared to demonstrate that the required safety gear is available. There must be a serviceable, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket available for each person on board, and children 12 and under must be wearing a life jacket. Boats 16 feet in length and longer are required to have a Type IV throwable flotation device on board that’s easily accessible. The operator also must be able to present the required number of fire extinguishers, which depends on the boat’s features like having an inboard engine or permanently installed fuel tanks.

In addition, officers will ask the operator if he or she has had any alcoholic beverages that day and will follow up with additional questions as needed. Officers also will be looking for compliance with the rules of navigation.

“Most of responsibility for safe boating falls on the operator. It’s the old law of the sea: The captain is responsible for the boat and safety of all of its passengers,” Baumgarten said. “The goal of our officers is not to stop people from having fun while boating. We want people to be safe so they can continue to enjoy Arizona’s outdoor recreational opportunities.”

Boaters looking for an overview of navigational rules, legal requirements and safety information can take an online or in-person course. AZGFD offers free boater safety education courses every month in Phoenix and Lake Havasu City, and a list of online courses approved by the department is posted on

Before heading out for the weekend, the public can check current information about fire restrictions and closures online at and AZGFD has posted a list of waterway closures.