Danger ahead: courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Boating under the influence (BU I) or boating while intoxicated (BWI) of alcohol is illegal! That said, while 76 million people enjoy boating on America's waterways each year, many are not aware of the very real, life-threatening dangers associated with consuming alcohol and boating. Boating while intoxicated is the leading contributing factor in fatal boating accidents. Operators with a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent (for most of us that means just one to three beers) are 10 times as likely to be killed in a boating accident as a sober boater.
Liquor is quicker on the water. Alcohol, with its well-know ability to impair performance, creates an even more hazardous situation when added to the stress of the marine environment. This is because the marine environment--the fluid base, motion, vibration, engine noise and elements of sun, wind and spray--accelerates impairment. The operator's coordination, judgment and reaction time are reduced by fatigue caused by these stressors. Tests have proven that only one-third of the amount of alcohol that makes a person legally impaired on the road is enough to make a person equally impaired on the water.
Further, alcohol can be more treacherous for boaters since they are less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway. Recreational boaters do not have the advantage of experiencing daily operation of a boat. In fact, boaters average only bout 110 hours of boating in a whole year. And in areas with seasonal boating, there can be months between boating outings and fishing trips.
In light of the dangers, the Coast Guard Auxiliary offers the following tips to stay safe while boating during this summer season:
* Always wear a personal flotation device. While in many areas of the country it's hot and steamy, don't be tempted to forgo wearing a life jacket. Accidents happen quickly, and often there isn't time to put on a life jacket once an accident has happened. Statistics consistently show that 80 percent of those who perished in boating accidents were not wearing a personal flotation device.
* Make sure your boat is properly equipped and required equipment is functioning properly. The 4th of July is sometimes the first and only time people venture out on the water after dark. Make sure your navigation lights work so you can be seen. Beffer yet, request a free vessel safety check (http://www.vesselsafetycheck.org) to make sure your boat has all the legally required and recommended equipment onboard.
* Be prepared for emergencies. Accidents happen quickly, often with lithe or no warning. Take the time to familiarize your crew with basic emergency procedures, and show them how to contact authorities for help via marine radio or cell phone. If you boat in an area that requires flares, make sure they are up to date, but never use flares as a form of fireworks. Doing so constitutes a false distress call, which is a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines, plus the cost associated with the false distress.
* File a float plan with a friend. A float plan for a boater is similar to a flight plan for a pilot. It lists who is going, where you're going, what the boat looks like, and when you expect to be back. Don't file this with the Coast Guard; rather share it with a friend who will be staying ashore, and instruct them on what to do in the event they don't hear from you within a reasonable time of when you expect to return home. Visit http://floatplancentral.org/ for a complete plan along with instructions.
* Keep a sharp lookout for other boats, the weather or anything that is unusual. The Coast Guard asks the public to be more aware of their surroundings, including carefully watching the weather, celebrating responsibly and understanding the hazards of boating under the influence. Report any emergencies to local authorities by calling 911 or VHF-FM channel 16. Any suspicious activity that might involve terrorism should be reported to America's Waterway Watch at 877-24-WATCH.
* Practice the three Cs--caution, courtesy and common sense. Use caution, especially in close quarter maneuvering situations with other boats. In such situations, slow speeds are better. Be courteous to your fellow boaters and use common sense. Don't cut people off at the launch ramp and never light fireworks from your boat!