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The U.S. Coast Guard Weighs in on Boating While Intoxicated

The U.S. Coast Guard offers some important information about boating under the influence of alcohol. Most DUI laws are promulgated and enforced by the individual states. The U.S. Coast Guard, however, is in the unique position of being the agency designated by the United States to police the navigable waterways of the nation. Navigable basically means connected to the ocean. If you're boating on a landlocked inland lake, you won't see them. If you're boating on one of the nation's coasts, or any of the rivers that empty into the ocean, on the other hand, the U.S. Coast Guard will be there. And if you're boating under the influence of alcohol, you can be arrested and cited by the U.S. Coast Guard for breaking federal law in addition to state law.

Boating Under the Influence

The U.S. Coast Guard notes that alcohol is even more hazardous on water than it is on land. Alcohol effects balance, judgment, vision, and coordination. These senses are even more important on the water, on a boat that's moving around under your feet. Coast Guard data shows that in boating deaths involving alcohol use, more than half of the victims either fell overboard or capsized their boats. Further factors such as boat motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind, and spray actually accelerate alcohol-related impairment. These factors contribute to a physical fatigue that decreases coordination, judgment, and reaction time even faster when alcohol is involved.

Specifically, alcohol causes the following:

  • deterioration of cognitive abilities and judgment, making it harder process information and make good decisions
  • impairment of physical performance, such as coordination, balance, and reaction time
  • decreased vision, including lessened peripheral vision, depth perception, night vision, and ability to focus and distinguish colors
  • inner ear malfunctions that could prevent a person who falls in the water from telling up from down
  • a physical sensation of warmth, which prevents a person in the water from realizing the onset of hypothermia.

Because of these factors, a person with a blood alcohol content of .10 percent is 10 times more likely to die in a boating accident that a person with no alcohol in his or her bloodstream.

Sobriety Safety Tips

To avoid boating under the influence, the U.S. Coast Guard suggests the following:

  • Take along cold drinks such as soda, water, iced tea, and non-alcoholic beer.
  • Bring plenty of food and snacks.
  • Dress to keep cool.
  • Limit your trip time to prevent fatigue.
  • If you plan to use alcohol, do so ashore. And wait a reasonable time after drinking alcohol (about one hour per drink) before operating your boat.