Colorado Parks and Wildlife Enforces Sober Boating and Operation Dry Water

Description: Photo Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Published: 07/01/2024
Byline: SECO News

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Enforces Sober Boating and Operation Dry Water

DENVER—Boaters heading out onto the water for the Fourth of July holiday weekend will see additional Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) officers enforcing boating under the influence (BUI) laws as part of the national Operation Dry Water campaign.

This enforcement operation is timed closely to July 4 each year to educate boaters on the dangers of boating under the influence and reduce the number of waterway accidents. Dangers include:

  • Alcohol impairs judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time on the water, which can increase fatigue and the dangers of cold-water immersion.
  • Sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion are added factors in a boating environment. All of these intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications. A general rule to remember is that one drink on land is equivalent to three drinks on the water.
  • Alcohol can be dangerous for passengers too. Intoxication on board can cause injuries from slips, falls overboard, and other dangerous accidents.

“Boating is a favorite pastime of Coloradans and visitors alike, but we want to make sure that everyone is enjoying their time on the water responsibly,” said Flatwater Criminal Investigator Brian Phillips. “Alcohol use is one of the leading contributing factors in recreational boating deaths in the country. We encourage boaters to be boat smart, boat safe, and boat sober.”

Operation Dry Water will include increased patrols and checkpoints. Penalties for boating under the influence include receiving fines, impounding your boat, potential jail time, and losing boating privileges. Boaters with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level above the .08 state limit will be arrested for BUI. 

In Colorado, boaters must also consider unpredictable weather risks while recreating on the water. Dangerous weather conditions include strong wind gusts that can knock a paddleboarder or kayaker into the water and cold water temperatures that exist year-round.

Boating and Water Safety
Life jackets save lives. This year, the majority of water-related deaths occurred because people did not wear a life jacket. 

There have already been over 20 water-related fatalities in Colorado this year, and the outdoor summer season is just beginning. In 2023, CPW tracked 32 water-related fatalities, down from 42 in 2022, a state record. CPW tracked 22 deaths in 2021 and 34 deaths in 2020.

CPW officers are actively writing tickets for boaters and paddlers who are not wearing life jackets. Tickets cost over $100. 

CPW advises the following boating safety tips before heading out onto the water.

  • Wear a life jacket​. 
  • Dress accordingly and protect your​self from the dangers of cold water shock. Regardless of your age or experience level, cold water can quickly create a drowning emergency.
  • Paddleboards and kayaks are considered vessels, and life jacket requirements apply. 
  • Heavy rain or snow melting in nearby mountains can raise water levels quickly and without notice. Check river flows at
  • Only boat or paddle in conditions you are comfortable and confident paddling in.
  • Boat and raft with a buddy and avoid floating alone, especially during high flows.
  • For recreationists who want to go rafting but are uncomfortable navigating more challenging water conditions, CPW recommends hiring a Colorado-licensed river outfitter guide to help facilitate the outdoor opportunity.  

For more information on boating safety, visit or download the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Boating Handbook

Don’t own a life jacket? Read about our life-jacket loaner program, or visit one of the life jacket loaner stations on CPW properties listed below. 

Life Jacket Loaner Stations
Rifle Gap -1
Harvey Gap -1
Chatfield -2
Mancos - 1
Navajo - 2
Barr Lake -1
Highline - 2
Trinidad Lake -1
Stagecoach -2
Eleven Mile -2
Spinney -1
North Sterling -3
Boyd Lake -2
James M Robb 
--Corn Lake -1
--Connected Lakes -1
--Fruita -1
Cherry Creek State Park -2
Lake Miramonte SWA - 2 
Steamboat Lake -2
Pearl Lake - 1
Ridgway-  2
Sweitzer -1
Paonia -1
Crawford -1
Dan Noble SWA (Miramonte Reservoir) - 2

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