Boating under the influence

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On May, 4, 2013, a Coast Guard law enforcement team from Station Marblehead, Ohio, conducted a boarding of a boat with 12 people aboard in the vicinity of Kelleys Island in Lake Erie and issued a federal ticket to the operator for boating under the influence.

“The owner/operator of the boat had a blood alcohol content of .112 percent,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Suder, the boarding officer who issued the ticket. “Normally, if the operator is too intoxicated, we ask if any of the passengers are able to drive the boat. In this case all of the passengers were too intoxicated, some even having a BAC of .2 percent or higher.”

IMG_3526The boarding officer terminated the voyage, and the team escorted the boat to the Portside Marina on Kellys Island.

“With everyone aboard intoxicated, the risk of an accident or death is more likely,” said Suder. “Boating under the influence is as dangerous as driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated. An operator who is driving a boat while impaired not only endangers the lives of everyone on his boat, but also could ruin the lives of other boaters around them.”

Much like on the road, the legal BAC is .08 percent in most states’ waters. If a boater, regardless of BAC, cannot safely operate a vessel,  he is considered to be operating under the influence. The Coast Guard can also enforce lower state BAC thresholds that apply to boaters under 21 years of age. BUI for commercial boat operators is .04 BAC.

“Last year alone, Station Marblehead cited nearly 50 people for boating under the influence,” said Suder.

In all Great Lakes states, it is illegal to operate a boat if you are under the influence of alcohol.

Unfortunately, hundreds of people are killed in boating accidents every year.

Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination. The marine environment – motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray – accelerates a drinker’s impairment. This decreases a boater’s coordination, judgment and reaction time.

Alcohol Facts and MythsIMG_3530

Myth: No one ever dies on the water from drinking alcohol.
Fact: Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents.

Myth: Getting drunk on the water takes longer than on land.
Fact: A boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than an automobile driver, drink for drink. This is due to marine enviromental factors, such as motion, vibration, engine noise, sun and wind.

Myth: Drinking alcohol while driving a boat is less dangerous than when driving a motor vehicle.
Fact: Drinking and driving a boat can be far more dangerous than driving a car while under the influence. Boats don’t have the luxury of seat belts like cars do, so these accidents can be detrimental.

Myth: Since my paddleboat does not have a motor, I can’t get into trouble for drinking and paddling.
Fact: BUIs are given to any operator with a BAC of .08 percent or higher in most states no matter what the propulsion of the boat is.

Myth: Most boating accidents that are fatal happen in the warmest summer months.
Fact: April, the start of the boating season is the month with the highest percentage of boating accidents that are fatal.

Myth: Fatal boating accidents only happen at night, when there is no sunlight.
Fact: Most fatal boating accidents happen between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.

Myth: Most drownings result from swimming.
Fact: More than 60 percent of drownings occur after the victim accidentally falls off a dock or vessel into the water. More than one-third of the victims were impaired by alcohol at the time of the accident.

Myth: Fresh air or black coffee will sober you up.
Fact: Once you have consumed alcohol, nothing will sober you up except time. Your body will burn about one ounce of alcohol per hour. If you are legally drunk it will take about seven hours to sober up.

Myth: It’s easy to tell if someone is too drunk to drive or boat.
Fact: Many experienced drinkers have learned to compensate for alcohol’s outwardly visual effects and can hide their intoxicated condition.

Myth: You are the best person to judge whether you are fit to drive or boat.
Fact: One of first things you lose when drinking is your judgment.