New Coast Guard Penalties Target Boozy Boaters

By Dirk Hanson 06/24/11

This weekend marks the start of a new national operation aimed at cutting down on drunk-boating accidents. Punishment includes imprisonment, impoundment of your boat and even loss of your driver's license.

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New sobriety tests being developed for boaters.
Photo via operationdrywater

This boating season, there may be a greater chance of encountering a boating safety officer or a game warden at the landing than ever before. And he or she will be happy to subject you to a very real drunk driving arrest. In fact, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators—the central clearing house composed of state enforcement agencies, the U.S Coast Guard, and other partner organizations involved in law enforcement on the waterways—is “pushing for a national marine field sobriety test standard that would enable patrol officers to test boaters while they’re seated,” USA Today discovered recently. The Coast Guard claims alcohol as the likely cause of most fatal boating accidents, and a Texas game warden said: “You’re in a 1-ton vehicle, but this vehicle doesn’t have brakes, and there’s no lane of traffic or stop sign to direct you.” Just as troubling is the fact that boating greenhorns vastly underestimate the effect that a combination of sun, heat, wind, noise, and vibration can have on drinkers at the helm.

Operation Dry Water, June 24-26, is billed as  “a national weekend of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) education and enforcement aimed at reducing alcohol and drug-related accidents and fatalities." Held on the weekend before the 4th of July holiday, Operation Dry Water is there to help remind you of a few facts about BUI:

If you boat under the influence, penalties can include fine, imprisonment, impoundment of your boat, loss of boating privileges, and even loss of driving privileges. Iowa, Oklahoma, and other states are in the process of lowering the legal blood-alcohol level to 0.08%, the same as for motor vehicles. New York state and others are changing their laws to bring boating under the influence more in line with driving under the influence. 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. North Carolina has a new enforcement campaign, “On the Road or On the Water,” designed to demonstrate that drunk boating is no different than drunk driving, and is putting out the enforcement muscle to prove it.

And yes, there is even an organization called B.A.D.D.—Boaters Against Drunk Driving. In the mid-70's, says B.A.D.D., “it became socially unacceptable to ‘drink and drive’. As we enter the new millennium, we should promote the concept that it is also socially unacceptable to ‘drink and boat’. BADD is not against drinking and alcohol. BADD is against drinking and operating a watercraft.” So, the next time you’re floating lazily on your inner tube, and a boatful of drunks decides to play chicken with you, remember that this season, cops and the courts are primed and ready to make examples out of drunken boaters. Drop that dime.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]