This month, we’re taking a second look at our post and Poinsett Pilot article (August 2020) on the Recreational Boating Statistics 2019, the 61st annual safety report published in June by the Coast Guard. Where the primary cause of fatalities was known, alcohol use was listed as the leading factor in 23% of deaths. BoatU.S. Foundation reports that almost half of all boating accidents involve alcohol.
It is clear that Boating Under The Influence (BUI) is a serious problem on the water. This article contains some facts to share with other skippers, especially when you see impaired piloting at the ramp, the marina, or other places you come in contact with other vessels.
Penalties For BUI
Many don’t realize that operating a boat while intoxicated is a federal offense, subject to a $1,000 fine. In addition, criminal penalties are as high as $5,000, and may even include jail time.
In South Carolina, Boating Under the Influence (BUI) penalties depend on the circumstances of the case. A jury can presume impairment with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or greater. Most BUIs are misdemeanors and the possible penalties are:
- First offense: $200 in fines, 48 hours of jail time or community service, and a six-month boating privilege suspension.
- Second offense: $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, at least 48 hours in jail or 10 days community service, and a one-year boating privilege suspension.
- Third offense: $3,500 to $6,000 in fines, 60 days to three years imprisonment, and a three-year boating privilege suspension
A BUI offender who causes property damage, injuries, or death while boating under the influence, faces enhanced penalties. Convicted boaters face at least $500 in fines and/or up to 30 days in jail, plus suspension of boating privileges for one year. BUIs involving “serious bodily injury” to another are felonies, carrying $5,000 to $10,000 in fines, 30 days to 15 years imprisonment and a three-year boating privilege suspension. BUI convictions involving death to another carry $10,000 to $25,000 in fines, one to 25 years in prison, and a three-year boating privilege suspension.
If you plan to drink, save your alcohol for when you’ve arrived safely back at the dock.
How Does Intoxication Affect The Ability To Pilot A Boat?
- Balance: Simply falling overboard and drowning accounts for at least one in four boating fatalities.
- Impaired Judgment: Intoxication causes normally cautious people to try stunts or enter high-risk situations a sober person would avoid.
- Reaction Time: Intoxication diminishes your ability to react to several different signals at once.
- Vision: Intoxication reduces night vision and impairs the inability to distinguish red from green, making observance of COLREGS difficult.
- Boating Stressors: Exposure to noise, vibration, sun, glare, wind and the motion of the water, adds to the impairment caused by intoxication.
- One 12 oz. beer contains the same amount of alcohol as 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor.
- Cold showers and coffee will only produce a clean, wide-awake drunk.
- Only your liver can detoxify alcohol and only time can sober you up.
- Alcohol does not aid recovery from hypothermia. The dilated blood vessels it causes reduce your body’s ability to guard against heat loss.
BoatU.S. Tests Alcohol Impairment In Experienced Skippers
Twenty years ago, BoatU.S. Foundation did some supervised tests of the effects of alcohol consumption on experienced skippers. The results, summarized in the table below, are quite “sobering” and underscore the impairments that we are not aware of, even if we seem to be able to pilot the vessel as normal. For Test 2, subjects went through a slalom course at planing speed through six buoys, a steerage-speed run through six more buoys placed in a zigzag pattern, and a docking test.
One test subject in a Parker 18 with 90hp outboard engine
|With 1 shot of vodka||Docked slowly and overcautiously without incident|
|With 2 shots||Didn’t notice other boats, hit a buoy without realizing it, hit the dock hard on the port quarter; mistakenly revved engine in forward instead of reverse and ran the bow up on the dock.|
|With 3 shots||BAC registered 0.11 (legally intoxicated); could not function.|
Another test, 2 men and 2 women, various body types, on two slalom courses and a docking test
|1 oz. 80 proof||BAC .02-.05%, 3 of 4 failed field sobriety test; erratic speed control; 2 hit the dock.|
|2-3 oz. 80 proof||BAC 0.5-.1%, all failed field sobriety.|
|4-5 oz. 80 proof||BAC .08-.12%, clearly inebriated; erratic speed control; very wide turns; overcompensating on helm; 2 hit dock, one hit buoy.|
|6-7 oz 80 proof||2 were incapacitated and could not be tested, 2 had BAC nearly .15% completed course with great difficulty; judged to be a serious threat to everyone nearby and themselves.|
There is an interesting finding from the report:
Each subject noted that even at moderate BAC levels, any unforeseen situations would have created problems for them in operating the boat. Any variable–obstacle in the water, approaching vessel, man overboard–that would have required a quick decision or spontaneous reaction could have had dire consequences.
Photo Credits: BoatUS Foundation[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]