As Minnesotans prepare to celebrate our country’s Independence Day, it is important that we remind ourselves to do so responsibly. For many, the 4th of July will involve a day on the lake, soaking in the sun and splashing around. The combination of hot sun, few snacks, and too many beers in the cooler can create a dangerous situation for boating under the influence.
Maintaining the safety of your friends, as well as the safety of other boaters on the water, is an important responsibility. Just as you would for a night on the town, always designate a sober driver.
Consider this information from the U.S. Coast Guard:
Did you know:
- A boat operator is likely to become impaired more quickly than a driver, drink for drink?
- The penalties for BUI can include large fines, revocation of operator privileges and serious jail terms?
- The use of alcohol is involved in about a third of all recreational boating fatalities?
Every boater needs to understand the risks of boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI). It is 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 BUI. This law pertains to ALL boats (from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships) and includes foreign vessels that operate in U.S. waters, as well as U.S. vessels on the high seas.
Dangers of BUI
Alcohol affects judgment, vision, balance and coordination. These impairments increase the likelihood of accidents afloat for both passengers and boat operators. U.S. Coast Guard data shows that in boating deaths involving alcohol use, over half the victims capsized their boats and/or fell overboard.
Alcohol is even more hazardous on the water than on land. The marine environment motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray accelerates a drinker’s impairment. These stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator’s coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster when using alcohol.
Alcohol can also be more dangerous to boaters because boat operators are often less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway. Recreational boaters don’t have the benefit of experiencing daily boat operation. In fact, boaters average only 110 hours on the water per year.
Alcohol has many physical effects that directly threaten safety and well-being on the water.
When a boater or passenger drinks, the following occur:
- Cognitive abilities and judgment deteriorate, making it harder to process information, assess situations, and make good choices.
- Physical performance is impaired – evidenced by balance problems, lack of coordination, and increased reaction time.
- Vision is affected, including decreased peripheral vision, reduced depth perception, decreased night vision, poor focus, and difficulty in 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 may 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 above .10 percent is estimated to be more than 10 times as likely to die in a boating accident than an operator with zero blood alcohol concentration. Passengers are also at greatly increased risk for injury and death – especially if they are also using alcohol.
This table gives a guide to average impacts of alcohol consumption. However, many factors, including prescription medications and fatigue, can affect an individual’s response to alcohol, and impairment can occur much more quickly as a result. There is NO safe threshold for drinking and operating a boat, so do not assume you are safe just because you fall into the “rarely” or “possibly” influenced categories.
Once you check sober boating off your safety list, you’ll want to consider the following safety items, sourced from Discover Boating.
- Be Weather-Wise
- Always check local weather conditions before departure; TV and radio forecasts can be a good source of information. If you notice darkening clouds, volatile and rough changing winds or sudden drops in temperature, play it safe by getting off the water.
- Follow a Pre-Departure Checklist
- Proper boating safety includes being prepared for any possibility on the water. Following a pre-departure checklist is the best way to make sure no boating safety rules or precautions have been overlooked or forgotten.
- Use Common Sense
- One of the most important parts of boating safety is to use your common sense. This means operating at a safe speed at all times (especially in crowded areas), staying alert at all times and steering clear of large vessels and watercraft that can be restricted in their ability to stop or turn. Also, be respectful of buoys and other navigational aids, all of which have been placed there to ensure your own safety.
- Designate an Assistant Skipper
- Make sure more than one person on board is familiar with all aspects of your boat’s handling, operations, and general boating safety. If the primary navigator is injured or incapacitated in any way, it’s important to make sure someone else can follow the proper boating safety rules to get everyone else back to shore.
- Develop a Float Plan
- Whether you choose to inform a family member or staff at your local marina, always be sure to let someone else know your float plan. This should include where you’re going and how long you’re going to be gone.
- A float plan can include the following information:
- name, address, and phone number of trip leader
- name and phone number of all passengers
- boat type and registration information
- trip itinerary
- types of communication and signal equipment onboard, such as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
- Make Proper Use of Lifejackets
- Did you know that the majority of drowning victims are the result of boaters not wearing their lifejackets? Make sure that your family and friends aren’t part of this statistic by assigning and fitting each member of your onboard team with a life jacket prior to departure. Wear it!
- Avoid Alcohol
- Practice boating safety at all times by saving the alcohol for later. The probability of being involved in a boating accident doubles when alcohol is involved and studies have shown that the effects of alcohol are exacerbated by sun and wind.
- Learn to Swim
- If you’re going to be in and around the water, proper boating safety includes knowing how to swim. Local organizations, such as the American Red Cross and others, offer training for all ages and abilities. Check to see what classes are offered in your area.
- Take a Boating Course
- Beginning boaters and experienced experts alike need to be familiar with the boating safety rules of operation. Boater education requirements vary by state; however, some require validated completion of at least one boating safety course. Regardless of your individual state’s requirements, it’s always important to be educated and prepared for every circumstance that might arise. You can learn boating safety rules by taking a local community course or online course to help educate yourself.
- Consider a Free Vessel Safety Check
- Take advantage of a free vessel safety check from the US Coast Guard. They offer complimentary boat examinations to verify the presence and condition of certain safety equipment required by state and federal regulations. Free of charge, they’ll provide a specialist to check out your boat and make helpful boating safety tips and recommendations. They also offer virtual online safety checks as well.