PACTOLA RESERVOIR, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Conservation officers are patrolling the waters to make sure boaters are safe and sober this 4th of July weekend.
Boats on the water at Pactola Reservoir in Pennington County. (KOTA TV)
South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks participates in the national campaign "Operation Dry Water."
Many families go boating at Pactola Lake throughout the summer, but because of Operation Dry Water, conservation officers are taking extra steps to educate boaters about the dangers of boating while under the influence.
"Some people don't think it's a big deal to be drinking on the water and boating, but actually down in Texas, a couple of game wardens' boats just got hit down there out on their Operation Dry Water, and the guy actually ended up being intoxicated so it happens more than we would like. That's why we're out here doing the operation," AJ Potter says, a conservation officer with South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks.
When conservation officers inspect boats, two main things they look for are life jackets for every person, and if there's an enclosed gas tank, a fire extinguisher.
According to statista.com, nearly 700 people died from boating accidents and more than 2,600 people were injured across the United States in 2017, with alcohol being the leading contributing factor.
"I think it's just the freedom that the water kind of gives people. You're out on wide open lake like out here on Pactola it's a pretty big lake. It seems very wide open," Potter says, "You can get a lot of boats out there, and it doesn't seem very congested, but all it takes is one person going too fast around a corner, not giving themselves enough room and not seeing another boat to where things could go bad."
Boaters convicted of boating under the influence can face up to one year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,000 in South Dakota.
But Game Fish and Parks just wants everyone to have a designated driver and be safe on the water.
"As always, we look forward to seeing everybody out on the water and enjoying the natural resources. And we just want you guys to do it in a safe way. We look forward to seeing you and enjoy the weather," Potter says.
So far this summer, Potter says there were no BUIs in Pennington County.