Boating under the influence can cost you
Boating under the influence can be equally if not more dangerous than drinking and driving. A third of all recreational boating fatalities involve alcohol, and drink for drink, boat operators become impaired more quickly than drivers.
The penalties for boating while intoxicated can include large fines, having operator privileges revoked and serious jail time.
Every boater needs to understand the risks of boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It’s illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. The Coast Guard also enforces a federal law that prohibits boating under the influence. The law pertains to all boats and personal watercraft (from canoes and Jet Skis to the largest ships) and includes foreign vessels that operate in U.S. waters as well as U.S. vessels on high seas.
Alcohol’s effects on boaters
Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination, increasing the likelihood of accidents afloat—for both passengers and operators. U.S. Coast Guard data shows that over half of the victims in alcohol-related boating deaths either capsized or fell overboard.
What makes alcohol more dangerous on the water? The boat’s motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray combine to accelerate a drinker’s impairment. Fatigue from the marine environment can impair a boat operator’s coordination, judgment and reaction time even without alcohol. Add alcohol, and the impairment occurs even faster. (Watch this America’s Boating Channel video, “Dangers of BUI,” to learn how boating can intensify the effects of alcohol.)
Often less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway, recreational boaters don’t boat every day. In fact, boaters average only 110 hours on the water per year.
The physical effects of boating under the influence
Alcohol directly threatens everyone’s safety and well-being on the water. When a boater or passenger drinks, the following occur:
- Cognitive abilities and judgement deteriorate, making it harder to process information, assess situations and make good decisions.
- Physical performance declines, leading to balance problems, lack of coordination and increased reaction time.
- Vision worsens. Symptoms include decreased peripheral vision, reduced depth perception, decreased night vision, poor focus and difficulty distinguishing colors (particularly red and green).
- Inner ear disturbances can make it impossible for a person who falls into the water to distinguish up from down.
- Alcohol creates a physical sensation of warmth, which could prevent a person in cold water from getting out before hypothermia sets in.
As a result of these factors, a boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 percent is more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident as an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration. Their passengers face an increased risk of injury and death as well—especially if they also use alcohol.
When heading out on the water, remember that law enforcement personnel come out in force on weekends and holidays. In most states, the blood alcohol level for a boating under the influence conviction is .08, but in some states it’s as low as .02. Keep yourself and others safe this summer. Don’t boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Become a better boater
Learn the basics so you can boat with confidence and have more fun on the water. Take America’s Boating Course today.