The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!
Search Gulf Coast Fisherman's
Understanding the Intensified Effects of Alcohol and Drugs on the Water
Many people joke about rocking or swaying the morning after a weekend on the boat. This "land sickness" is not imagined. It's proof positive of the dramatic impact the marine environment can have on the human body - more specifically the body's sensory perception system. On the water, the brain is confronted with conflicting information from the eyes, feet, and inner ear about the location of the horizon and the deck. So the brain works hard to adapt. But back on land, the brain has to re-adapt, which makes many people experience the temporary rocking or swaying sensation.
This type of unexpected impact also extends to the use of alcohol and drugs while boating, which can be more hazardous than on-land use. Sun, wind, noise, vibration, and motion are all considered "stressors" common to the boating environment. They intensify the effects of alcohol, drugs, and some medications by causing fatigue, which greatly reduces a boat operator's coordination, judgment, and reaction time.
Balance and vision are also affected at an accelerated rate. Last but not least, the use of alcohol makes the body more susceptible to the effects of cold water.
Such impairments increase the likelihood of accidents afloat - for both passengers and boat operators. U.S. Coast Guard data shows that in boating deaths involving alcohol use, more than half the victims capsized their boats and/or fell overboard.
It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. The U.S. Coast Guard also enforces a federal law that prohibits Boating Under the Influence (BUI). This law pertains to ALL boats (from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships) - and includes foreign vessels that operate in U.S. waters, as well as U.S. vessels on the high seas. Penalties may include fines, jail, impoundment of boats, and in some states the loss of boating and/or driving privileges.
Every boater should take the dangers of BUI seriously - and understanding that alcohol and drugs affect the body differently on the water is the first step. Alcohol or drug use is a factor in approximately 1 in 5 boating fatalities. No buzz or high is worth the extreme risks. The unexpected impact could be fatal.
Operation Dry Water 2010
The problem of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) has led state and federal marine law enforcement agencies to coordinate their efforts during an annual weekend of stepped-up BUI detection and enforcement called Operation Dry Water. Coordinated by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard and partner law enforcement agencies, Operation Dry Water is aimed at reducing the number of alcohol and drug-related boating accidents and fatalities, and fostering a stronger and more visible deterrent to alcohol and drug use on the water. If boating law enforcement finds that a boat operator is BUI, the vessel's voyage will be terminated, the boat may be impounded and the operator may be arrested. Penalties can include fines, imprisonment, and loss of boating and/or automobile driving privileges.
Authorities emphasize that cracking down on BUI is just as important to public safety as enforcing drunk driving laws. Last year agencies in 46 states and 5 U.S. territories participated in Operation Dry Water. Over that three-day weekend, 2,442 marine law enforcement officers made contact with 17,454 recreational vessels and issued 5,320 boating safety warnings, 283 BUI citations and 1,127 citations for other violations. Gulf states from Texas to Florida are among those participating in ODW 2010.
Real Risks. Real Consequences.
Boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs could cost you:
o Someone else's life
o Your own life
o Your driver's license
o The time, expense, and shame of an arrest
o The cost of a fine
o The cost of boat repairs from an accident
o The cost of property damage from an accident
o The cost of medical treatment
Boat Operating Skills Adversely Affected by Alcohol or Drug Use:
o Peripheral vision
o Night vision
o Ability to distinguish colors
o Cognitive abilities
o Reaction time
The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.
Photo 1: Coast Guard officers arrest a boater for boating while intoxicated. (USCG photo)
Photo 2: Alcoholic beverages discovered on board a boat at a BUI checkpoint (NASBLA photo)