Drinking While Boating: Alcohol and Water Don’t Mix

Drinking while boating does not go together well like water and whiskey might. Why? Because not all drunk driving happens on the road.

According to the United States Coast Guard, drinking while boating is a contributing factor in boating accidents that result in death. Also, alcohol is one of the top five contributing factors in boating accidents that result in injuries.

Drinking While Boating Alcohol and Water Don’t MixWhile places to go boating in Florida have not increased, the number of boat owners has, making Florida the top state for boaters. In 2021, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) noted 1.01 million recreational boats were registered in Florida. Three years earlier, there were 950,000 registered recreational boats. Lee County had the third-most boat registrations across 67 Florida counties.

In a 2020 report, the U.S. Coast Guard found that nearly seven people died in boating accidents for every 100,000 recreational vessels registered throughout the country. This was an increase from 5.2 deaths per 100,00 registered recreational vessels in 2019.

More boats seem to equal more accidents. Lee County ranked No. 4 in Florida and Collier County No. 8 for boating accidents in 2021, according to the FWC.

“With more boats on the water, we want to spread the word about boating safety to both residents and visitors enjoying Florida’s year-round boating season,” said Maj. Rob Beaton, Boating and Waterways Section Leader for FWC. “A safe day while boating is a great day. Nothing can ruin a fun and memorable experience on the water faster than a boating accident.”

In Florida, it is illegal to operate a vessel with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher, the same as operating a vehicle.

Why Drinking While Boating is a Bad Idea

The impact drinking has upon driving a vehicle on land is well-studied. However, less is known about how drinking while boating impacts ability.

For example, motion, the effect of waves and engine noise can intensify effects of substances. Water, sun and wind can impact how alcohol is absorbed. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, these stressors can make a boater’s coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster with alcohol. Also, boats don’t have brakes and operate a lot more like an airplane in some ways than a car.

Boat US Foundation did a test to understand the impact of alcohol consumption on boat operations. Two men and two women were asked to perform a slalom course, a steerage-speed run and a docking test.

After two 1-ounce drinks of 80-proof vodka or rum, all four did poorly on standard DUI field sobriety tests. However, they appeared more relaxed and confident for the on-the water tests. After three drinks, with a BAC of .08% to .12%, boat speed varied greatly. Two boaters hit the dock and one hit a buoy.

After the fourth round of drinks, a male and female test subject had reached .15% BAC, nearly twice the legal threshold in many states. They experienced great difficulty trying to accomplish the water test.

Safe Boating Tips

The National Safe Boating Council recommends these tips for boaters:

  • Take a boating safety course. Anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988, is required to have a boater ID card.
  • Check equipment. Schedule a free vessel safety check with the local Coast Guard Auxiliary to make sure all essential equipment is present, working and in good condition.
  • Always let someone on shore know where you are going, when you plan to return, and make sure they have your boat type and registration number.
  • Make sure everyone wears a life jacket – every time.
  • Use an engine cut-off device – it is the law. It will stop the boat’s engine should the captain fall overboard.
  • Watch the weather. Always check the forecast before departing on the water and frequently during the excursion.
  • Know what is going on around you at all times. Nearly a quarter of all reported boating accidents in 2020 were caused by operator inattention or lack of a lookout.
  • Be familiar with the area, local boating speed zones and always travel at a safe speed.

Help Us Stop Drinking While Boating

We are passionate supporters of MADD and the firm is a presenting sponsor for Southwest Florida’s Walk Like MADD 5K at JetBlue Park in September. Our attorneys have seen the impact of drunk driving personally, as well as through the clients we represent, reinforcing our advocacy for MADD.

You can support our team, or form a team of your own to help MADD ensure there are no more victims.

The sad truth is that drinking while boating or driving can injure or kill people. It is against the law to operate a boat while drinking. If you are injured in a boat accident, we are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation.