by Conrad & Judy Kreuter

Q: Dear Boat Talk: When I go out fishing I usually take my favorite “beverage”. Now I hear that the government is cracking down on alcohol while boating. Is this true? TG, Huntington NY

A: Dear TG: The US Coast Guard has initiated a major nation wide campaign to warn Americans about the dangers of alcohol consumption and boating. The Coast Guard is using a three-fold approach to reducing alcohol related accidents:

  • Improved law enforcement in cooperation with the States
  • An improved accident reporting system to identify alcohol related accidents
  • Wide spread education and public awareness of the dangers of alcohol

It is unlawful in every State to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In addition to State Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) Laws, there is also a federal law, enforced by the Coast Guard, prohibiting BWI. This law applies to all boats, including foreign vessels, in US waters and US vessels on the high seas.

Alcohol, with its well-known ability to impair performance, creates an even more hazardous situation when added to the stress of the marine environment. This is because the marine environment, the fluid base, motion, vibration, engine noise, and elements of sun, wind and spray- accelerate impairment. The operator’s coordination, judgement, and reaction time are reduced by fatigue caused by these stressors. A boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to be killed in a boating accident as boat operators with zero blood alcohol concentration. Further, alcohol can be more treacherous for boaters since they are less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway. Recreational boaters do not have the advantage of experiencing daily operation of a boat. In fact boaters average only about 110 hours of boating in a whole year. And in areas with seasonal boating, there can be months between boating outings or fishing trips.

Drinking alcohol produces certain physiological responses that directly affect safety and well being. Among these are:

  • Judgement and skills deteriorate, affecting peripheral vision, balance, and ability to process information.
  • Physical performance and reaction time are reduced.
  • Alcohol reduces depth perception, night vision, focus, and the ability to distinguish colors, especially red and green.
  • Alcohol consumption can result in inner ear disturbance, which can make it impossible for a person suddenly immersed in water to distinguish up from down.
  • Alcohol creates a sense of warmth and may prevent a person in cold water from getting out before hypothermia sets in.

When the Coast Guard determines that an operator is impaired, the voyage will be terminated. The vessel will be brought to mooring either by Coast Guard tow, a member of the Coast Guard crew, or a competent, sober, person on board of the recreational vessel. Depending on the circumstances, the operator may then be arrested, detained until sober but most likely he will be turned over to State or local authorities.

In the event the Coast Guard has stopped a boat for an otherwise routine inspection, and observes the operator to be under the influence, a field sobriety test will be given. Upon failure of this test, the operator will be turned over to local authorities.

Boating doesn’t need any stimulus to make is fun. Fishing doesn’t need any liquid bait to improve the catch.

Consider these alternatives to alcohol and boating:

  • Take along a variety of sodas, a jug of water, ice tea, or lemonade, or take along non-alcoholic beer.
  • Take along plenty of food.
  • Wear clothes that will keep you cool.
  • Plan to limit your trip to the number of hours you can spend on the water without becoming tired.
  • Enjoy your outing more by having the party ashore after you dock- in the picnic area, in the yacht club, in your backyard- where you’ll have time between the fun and getting back into a boat or your car.

If you dock somewhere for lunch or dinner and drink alcohol, wait a reasonable time before heading back home.

If necessary, be sure to have a sober designated driver as the boat operator. Or better yet, in case of emergency, have two designated non-drinking operators.

No alcohol aboard is the safe way to go- remember, intoxicated passenger can fall overboard too!

This subject is near and dear to us as we almost lost a friend due to alcohol. We were asleep aboard our boat, which was docked in the marina. Our neighbors on the next boat had been entertaining guests that evening. Late that night, Conrad awoke to the sound of our friend calling for Judy to come talk. Not getting a response, our friend attempted to board our boat and fell into the water between the boats.

Luckily, Conrad heard the splash and awoke Judy and we both attempted to rescue the person in the water. The person could not assist in saving themselves, so Judy summoned extra help from neighboring boats while Conrad held the person above water. With help, we were finally able to retrieve the person from the water. This situation could have easily turned into an unfortunate drowning at the dock!