Despite patrols, it's hard to catch drunk boaters in Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Many people in Eastern Iowa celebrate the 4th of July boating with friends and family and watching the fireworks over the Cedar River.
But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources was also out in full force this week.

“Let’s see two lifejackets,” said Conservation Officer Angie Jansen to a boater.

Riding along with Officer Dakota Drish, they helped a number of other DNR Conservation Officers uphold the law.

“We are checking for registration, they have safety devices and properly fitting lifejackets,” said Drish.

But they are also taking part in “Operation Dry Water.” From 2015-2019 the DNR has ticketed 40-60 boaters each year for boating while intoxicated. That may seem like a low number to some, but…

“You have to take in to account that most of the people we are dealing with are recreational boaters,” said Drish. “They are only on the waters for a few months out of the year and are not as familiar with boats as they are motor vehicles.”

But according to state law, Drish and the other conservation officers also need probable cause in order to pull boaters over.

“The speed and distance law is probably the most important in the state of Iowa and the most violated law,” he said.

Drinking and driving laws are similar to those of the Iowa Department of Transportation. The driver of the boat has to be below a .08 blood alcohol content level and conservation officers are trained in performing field sobriety tests, but when it comes to public safety, it would take a change in DWI laws in regards to operating a motorboat.