Taking your boat out for the day is a great opportunity to get some sun and enjoy the water. However, it’s always a wise precaution to leave the alcohol at home. In addition to the safety concerns, there are legal ramifications to operating your boat under the influence.
You’ll want to read this article before you head out on the water after a few drinks. If you wait until afterward, it may be too late.
How Does Alcohol Affect a Boat Captain?
In general, alcohol affects people the same on the water as it does on land, meaning judgment, coordination, balance, and vision are all impaired. For someone driving a car, their ability to operate the vehicle is inhibited accordingly. The same goes for boat operators.
While there may not be precise lanes of traffic when you’re operating a boat, the same impairments will prevent an individual from operating the boat correctly. The effect that an unsteady body of water has on the boat can also play a factor in inhibiting the captain’s ability to boat safely.
In looking at recent boating accidents, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that half of the fatalities to which they responded were the result of boating while intoxicated. In those instances, intoxication caused individuals to either fall overboard or to capsize the boat.
Intoxication creates a feeling of being warm. As a result, people swimming or playing in the water won’t realize how cold the water has become later in the day and early evening. This encourages them to stay in the water when they should have returned to the boat. This is often the situation in which people get hypothermia.
How Does the Law Regulate Boating and Drinking?
There are both federal and state laws requiring that the captain of a boat must be sober while operating the vessel. If you’re found to be in violation of these laws, you’ll likely lose your boating license. You may also be arrested just as you would be arrested for operating a car or truck under the influence.
Some states do use police boats to establish sobriety checkpoints. Even if the local governments aren’t enforcing boating sobriety laws, the Coast Guard does regularly patrol the waters and can board your vessel to conduct a search for alcohol. Some states, such as Delaware, don’t even require a search warrant. A violation can result in federal charges, or the Coast Guard may hold you until local or state authorities arrive to charge you.
What are The Penalties for Boating Under the Influence?
The penalties associated with felony boating under the influence range from mild to severe, depending on your criminal history and the severity of the offense. In a best case scenario, you may get away from the incident with a warning or a brief suspension of your boating license. This is usually the case for a first time offender, so don’t expect a second boating under the influence offense to be treated as lightly.
A repeat offender could face the permanent revocation of their boating license and the seizure of their vessel. Additional penalties include fines that range from $1,000 up to $5,000 and a jail sentence. A misdemeanor charge carries a minimum jail term of six months, but that sentence will get higher with repeat offenses.
Depending on your state’s laws, a boating DUI may also be reflected on your regular driver’s license. If this is the case, you could suffer the suspension of your driver’s license as a penalty for operating a boat under the influence.
Taking your boat for a cruise can be an exciting adventure for yourself, your family, and your friends. However, bringing alcoholic beverages along will put everyone in danger and may compromise your ability to legally operate a boat. Rather than take any unnecessary risks, it’s better to make your day on the water a clean and sober event.