Alcohol and boating can be a lethal mix
Despite media campaigns and programs designed to heighten public awareness of the inherent dangers of boating under the influence, too many boaters ignore the warnings.
Most people think boating accidents involve collisions resulting in injuries and fatalities. A closer look at the statistics shows that about 80 percent of deaths result from drowning, often from nonmoving boats. A study team from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center found that a drunken boater ramming into a dock or another boat is a pretty rare phenomenon.
Many passengers erroneously believe they don’t need to heed the warnings about alcohol use, but according to the UNC study, a passenger who consumes alcohol onboard is just as vulnerable to falling overboard and drowning.
In an incident off the New Jersey coast a few years ago, newspapers reported that a passenger on an all-day fishing boat consumed a lot of beer while fishing. As the captain turned the boat for the two-hour journey back to port, the fisherman didn’t lean with the boat and fell over the railing. The fall went unnoticed; the roar of the engines covered any cry for help. The fisherman wasn’t missed until the boat docked. The U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue team failed to find the man, whose body washed ashore several days later.
One alarming finding of the study is that even small amounts of alcohol can cause impairment. According to Dr. Robert Foss, research scientist at the center, passengers and operators with a blood alcohol content as low as .01 percent had a 30 percent increased risk of drowning than those with no alcohol in their system; a blood-alcohol content of 0.25 increased the risk of death more than 52 times.
USPS boating courses, the National Safe Boating Council, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are good sources of information you can use to help spread the word that alcohol and boating don’t mix.