By Wayne Spivak, ADSO-CS 1SR
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
"Alcohol involvement in reported accidents accounted for 31 percent
of all boating fatalities (page 31) - up five (5) percent from 1999.
A Coast Guard study estimates that boat operators with a blood alcohol
concentration above 10 percent are estimated to be more than 10
times as likely to be killed in a boating accident than boat operators
with zero blood alcohol concentration." - this according to the
USCG 2000 Boating Statistics.
Sobering thoughts you would think? But, in many areas of the
country, this doesn't seem to be the case. Drinking and boating
has been a way of life, ever since yachting and sailing became the
pastime of the rich and famous. So too was drinking and driving,
but we as a society have gotten "MADD', and put some brakes on this
rage, if not the acceptability of the concept.
According to Mother's Against Drunk Drivers (www.madd.org),
"Alcohol-related traffic deaths are on the rise and underage drinking
levels have reached a plateau." MADD was established by a group
of women in California outraged after the death of a teenage girl
killed by a repeat-offender drunk driver.
We, as a sport, need to get as 'MADD' as drivers have, and become
"BADD' in order to promote safe boating without alcohol. Why "BADD'?
The Auxiliary and the Coast Guard are for Boaters Against Drunk
Driving, which is why Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) laws have
begun to find their way into many state laws.
More and more, local and state governments and the Coast Guard
have begun to enforce BWI laws, and MADD themselves have begun campaigns
in several areas. One such success story comes from Illinois. In
1998, MADD placed 17 banners in Illinois inland lake areas "No OUI
Deaths." The year before the program started, 11 such deaths were
In many states, local authorities have tied a conviction for
BWI to your driving record. This means that regardless of whether
you're driving a water-borne vehicle or a land-based one, the insurance
industry will surcharge you for a conviction. Those who know people
or have been previously convicted of this crime know that their
insurance rates go into the stratosphere.
Some examples of law enforcement and/or laws are:
In May 2000, Coast Guard Station Ketchikan, Alaska radio
operators received a telephone call from a Ketchikan woman at
8:15 p.m., reporting that an intoxicated 29-year-old, and a
male companion consumed alcohol before boarding a 17-foot skiff
for a voyage from Thomas Basin to Whiskey Cove on Pennock Island.
"We want to emphasize that drinking while operating any type
of vehicle, especially a boat, is extremely dangerous and can
be deadly," said Sue Hargis, the 17th Coast Guard
District Recreational Boating Safety Coordinator. "We gladly
welcome anonymous tips to help us stop intoxicated boaters from
harming themselves and others on the water."
In Florida, the law states "Is a criminal offense punishable
by fines up to $2,500, imprisonment of up to one year, non-paid
public service, and mandatory substance abuse counseling. The
law provides for mandatory sentencing. If a drunken operator
kills or causes serious bodily injury to another person, the
penalty is five years in state prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
By operating on Florida waterways, you are deemed to have given
consent to be tested for alcohol if arrested for operating under
the influence. Refusal to submit to a test may be used against
you in court."
In Tennessee, "...detection, apprehension and arrests for
boating under the influence (BUI) are given top priority by
the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). During 2000,
TWRA law enforcers made 68 BUI arrests. In 1999, 73 BUI arrests
were made. Until 1998, the average number of arrests was approximately
20 each year." TWRA is making a very strong effort to address
the BUI issue and these statistics indicate measurable success.
According to Darren Rider, a TWRA Marine Investigator, the agency
recently hired 25 part-time boating officers to work with the
38 existing part-time boating officers to help enforce "The
Boating Safety Act of 1965."
In Nassau County, New York, The Westbury Times, a local
paper, ran this editorial in their June 15, 2001 paper, "...As
with Nassau County's tough laws against drunk driving, Nassau
County has a zero tolerance policy against boating while intoxicated.
Those who operate boats under the influence of alcohol will
be arrested and may lose their boating privileges. This tough
policy is preventing a lifetime of tragedy for potential victims
and their families while ensuring safety on our waterways. We
will not permit innocent victims to die at the hands of reckless
and irresponsible boaters."
Think before you Drink
So, how do you enjoy your time on the water, and still preserve
the option to enjoy an alcoholic beverage? That's easy. Use the
same common sense you use when you are on land. If you want to indulge
in alcoholic beverages, a) designate a non-drinking pilot, b) settle
in for the night, and don't move the boat (but be careful not to
fall overboard) or better yet, c) wait until you get home.
We, in the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, want you to
enjoy SAFE boating. And safety begins with being sober, having a
properly equipped boat (if you're not sure if your boat has all
the equipment, ask for our free Vessel Safety Check [VSC]) and a
properly trained skipper and crew.
For further training, a VSC, or more information, contact your
local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla or Coast Guard Station. You
can also find us on the web at
(Coast Guard) or
As Bob Dylan said, "For the times they are a-changin'." From
Alaska to New York, Florida to Tennessee, state by state, locality
by locality, BWI has become one of "the" boating issues. Get caught
drinking, and your pleasant day on the water will turn into months
and months of heartache. Have a SAFE and SOBER boating season!
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774