Drunken boaters a target of Labor Day boat patrols

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) As we approach the unofficial end of summer, you can expect lots of people to be on the water over the Labor Day weekend.

That means law enforcement will be out in force, too, making sure everyone stays safe.

And that includes not drinking while driving boats.

Sergeants Randy Lind and Karl Lau spend much of their summer on the water patrolling parts of the Fox River and Bay of Green Bay throughout Brown County.

"Weekends have been very busy this summer. It's been some pretty nice weather," Sgt. Lau tells us as we ride in the sheriff's office patrol boat along the Fox River.

As members of the marine unit, they see a lot on these waters.

"Most of it is the safety aspect is what we're after," says Sgt. Lind.

They check for life jackets, fire extinguishers, boat registrations and the one thing that always causes concern.

"We're always looking for intoxicated boaters, because they are very hazardous out here. It's difficult sometimes because the water doesn't have lines to watch people drive recklessly, so we stop and talk to people," says Sgt. Lau.

Last year, Target 2 Investigates took a close look at the number of people cited for boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

We found 30 percent of those boaters also had a history of drunk driving on roadways.

The law doesn't treat them the same -- but law enforcement views them as the same danger.

"There can be a lot of traffic out here," adds Sgt. Lind.

So far this summer, these sergeants say they've cited just one person for boating under the influence (BUI).

Every summer, local, state and federal agencies conduct a concentrated three-day patrol targeting BUIs.

While final stats haven't been released for this summer, it highlights a growing problem.

Last summer, nationwide, 518 people were cited for boating under the influence. That's a significant jump from prior years, where stats showed 367 BUIs in 2016 and 278 in 2015. That year, the most intoxicated boater cited during the Operation Dry Water patrols was recorded in Wisconsin with a blood alcohol concentration of .285, more than three times the legal limit to operate a boat.

"A lot of people do drink when they're out on their boats, get together and have their coolers, like to have a good time, and we want people to have a good time, but be responsible while they're doing it," adds Sgt. Lau.