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The Dangers Of Boating Under The Influence

The risks and consequences of operating a car while under the influence of alcohol are well publicized and a matter of public knowledge. What about the inherent risks of a boating accident while boating under the influence?

From the rum-soaked pirates of yore, to the leisurely, beer swilling, Jimmy Buffet-style fisherman of today, pop culture lore depicts boats and booze as a natural fit. But startling statistics on the dangers of boating under the influence paint a very different picture.

According to a study that appeared in the December 2001 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association, there exists a strong connection between drinking while boating and boating accidents.

The Journal study collected and analyzed data on deadly boating accidents from two states – Maryland and North Carolina – over a nine-year period. The study also included interviews from 4,000 boaters, and blood alcohol data for most of the interviewees.

The researchers looked at a total of 221 boating fatalities, about 25 a year. Drowning caused the vast majority of deaths and the victims were overwhelmingly men, representing 93 percent of fatalities.

The findings in this comprehensive study suggest that you do not need to be visibly intoxicated to increase the risk of a deadly accident, though the more you drink, the greater the risk.

Key findings in the Journal study include:
  • An “averaged sized” adult male (about 160 pounds) who drinks just half of a beer while boating, raises his risk of dying by 30 percent.
  • A blood alcohol content of 0.05 – relatively low and below the legal limit for BAC in most states – increases the risk of dying by almost four times that of a non-drinking boater.
  • An adult with a blood alcohol content of 0.25 increases his or her chance of death by a whopping 50 times that of a sober passenger or boater.  
  • Fifty five percent of the boaters killed had a positive blood alcohol content.
  • Here’s where things get especially scary; a sober boat operator – while an essential part of boating – doesn’t eliminate the risk of fatal boating accidents and alcohol.
Researchers determined that the odds of boating fatalities were almost the same for all boaters under the influence, whether they were operating the vessel or were merely acting as passengers. Alcohol was identified as dangerous, and in some instances, lethal, for those on the water.

Not only does alcohol consumption aboard a vessel increase the odds of an accident, alcohol impairs balance and coordination, making a person more likely to fall overboard.

Once an intoxicated person hits the water, their risk of death is greater for several reasons:
  • Alcohol increases the chances of hypothermia.
  • A person who has been drinking will have more difficultly keeping their head above water.
  • Alcohol can interfere with a person’s sense of equilibrium, making it impossible to get a clear sense of direction.
  • Someone who is intoxicated might suffer a marked decline in vision.
Little appears to have changed since the 2001 publication of the boating accident statistics study in the Journal. Alcohol continues to rank as a leading factor in fatal boating accidents.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Annual Boating Statistics report for 2007 said that alcohol was the leading cause of fatal boating accidents, having played a primary role in 21% of boating deaths.  

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that a person operating a boat with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10 or greater is more than 10 times as likely to be involved in a fatal boating accident than someone who has no alcohol in his or her system.

A person who operates a boat under the influence is a danger not only to themselves, but the passengers in their vessel and other boat operators sharing the water. If you or someone you care about has been the victim of someone who operated a boat while drunk, contact a qualified boating accident attorney to determine your rights for compensation. 

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