Boaters in Suffolk County have been forewarned: drink while operating a boat and police will make every attempt to get you out of the water.
That’s the message that officials in the county tried to send the last few days in the form of news release and press conferences, hoping to curtail drunk boating, and driving, during the Labor Day holiday weekend, which is typically the last hurrah for Long Islanders during the summer season.
The death of a West Islip man fishing in the Great South Bay when his vessel was hit by an alleged drunk boater in June is a sobering reminder, police said, of what can happen when boat operators choose to have a few beverages while navigating Long Island’s waters.
“People lose their lives over this, and sadly it happens every year,” Edward Vitale, captain of Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau, told the Press. “It happens on the water and it happens certainly on the roads, as we well know.”
What frustrates authorities is the fact that drinking and operating a boat, or a car, can easily be avoided.
“Those are not just accidents,” Vitale added. “People are making decisions, wrong decisions, and they put other people’s lives at risk.”
He cited the June boat crash that killed 39-year-old Christopher Mannino, the West Islip man whose fishing boat was hit under the Robert Moses Main Span Bridge, as evidence why people need to be more responsible.
“It’s unnecessary,” he said of drinking and boating.
Police have been talking about crackdown on drunken boaters in recent months, but they’re taking action, too.
Just this week, Suffolk police announced that two people were arrested for boating while intoxicated last weekend during the department’s first ever BWI sobriety checkpoint on the Patchogue River.
Similar checkpoints will be put in place over the holiday weekend, but Vitale declined to discuss details of the operation.
“We are going to make every attempt to find them and take them off the water,” he said.
But Vitale noted that most boaters are responsible and follow the rules of the water.
“Common sense prevails, and most people with boats do have common sense, they pay attention to the weather, they’re pretty careful most times,” he said.
But still, one death caused by a drunken boater is too many, Vitale said.
“Our efforts will go on,” he said. “We have to have a summer at some point where we don’t have any fatalities. That’s the point, it’s not so much to capture people…it’s to make it safe for everyone.”