Boating is primarily a leisure activity, and many individuals thus treat it differently than driving a car. For the person operating the boat, however, the responsibilities are to be taken seriously — including when it comes to drinking or using drugs. The operator of a boat or a personal watercraft (such as a Jet Ski) is subject to arrest for boating under the influence (BUI), just as a driver would be for driving under the influence.
The dangers inherent in drinking while operating a boat are important to keep in mind the next time you and your friends or family head out to enjoy a day on the water. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol use was primarily to blame for 91 boating fatalities in 2015, the most of any primary factor. All told, alcohol use was the primary contributing factor in 260 boating accidents resulting in 228 injuries.
Drunk boat driving might not seem as serious as drinking and driving, given the relative lack of traffic on the water, but the effects of even one drink can severely impair an operator’s ability to make good decisions while behind the wheel. The combination of heat, glare and noise that an operator experiences while boating can exacerbate alcohol’s effects on the senses, equilibrium and judgment. Simply put, drunk boating is never safe behavior.
This is why every state has laws against BUI. Even if an accident does not occur, the legal consequences of a BUI arrest or conviction are severe in many cases, and can result in a heavy fine and even jail time. In many cases, a BUI arrest or conviction can mean the loss of your driver’s license, as well.
The most obvious and simple way to avoid a BUI arrest is to not drink when boating. Other strategies for avoiding BUI include not operating a boat for at least one hour for each drink you have had, and checking the laws of your state to see whether an individual can be charged with BUI for operating watercraft such as a canoe or kayak while drunk.
The accompanying Boating Under the Influence Guide illustrates just how dangerous drinking and boating can be and provides some helpful tips to avoid a BUI arrest. Boating may be primarily a leisure activity for you, but that doesn’t mean you should be any less careful when it comes to alcohol consumption. Know the law and the risks, and you may save lives.