Special patrols target drunken boaters on Seafair weekend

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SEATTLE -- By land, and by boat, thousands are trekking to Seafair this weekend.

During the annual summer event, hydroplanes push the limits on Lake Washington. Not far off shore, there is also a contingent of boats on the water watching for other boat operators who may be over the legal alcohol limit.

“It’s super important the boat operators aren’t drinking any alcoholic beverages,” said Leslie Burns, of the Mercer Island Police Department.

Several agencies make up the special emphasis patrol, with about 20 police boats that will be out looking for drunken boaters.

They are also conducting safety checks,  making sure kids are wearing life jackets. But the focus is on boats who are drunk.

“We’re not here to wreck anyone’s weekend, and we want to keep it safe and fun,” said Burns.

The Seafair emphasis patrols began 10  years ago, and police say they have been successful. The first year, police made 170 arrests, mostly for boating under the influence. Last year, they arrested just 35. Anyone with a blood alcohol limit over .08 is considered drunk.

Boaters appear to be getting the message, and Burns says the waters on Seafair weekend are a safer place.

“If they drink and drive, they may go to jail, and they will be cited, so we take it very seriously and we hope the boaters do, too.”