Marine Minute: "Boating and Booze"

Another "Marine Minute" dispatch from the County, which I’m finding pretty interesting. This week’s topic: drinking and boating. Not trying to be preachy—I genuinely find this interesting.

Ask any ten Oregon boaters if they can legally drink alcohol while operating a boat (powered or otherwise), and there’s a good chance that six or seven of them will say, “NO!” The truth is, there is NO open container law for boaters in Oregon; while it may be legal to operate a boat with a beer in hand, the operator cannot be intoxicated.

Oregon’s BUII (Boating Under the Influence) laws apply to motorized and non-motorized watercraft alike. (Remember, in a raft, everyone with a paddle is an operator!) All 48 mainland states now have a legal per se statutory limit of 0.08% BAC (blood alcohol concentration) to be considered "Under the Influence" of alcohol or other impairing substances. The U.S. Coast Guard says a boat operator whose BAC exceeds 0.08% is 10 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than a boater with zero BAC.

Alcohol affects balance, vision, coordination and judgment. Environmental factors that come with boating – such as wind, sun, noise and motion – can magnify the effects of alcohol and accelerate impairment. Medical testing has shown that one beer consumed on a boat can be equal to three consumed on land!

Research has also shown that as little as four hours of exposure to sun, wind, glare, vibration and other motion on the water produces "boater’s hypnosis", a kind of fatigue that slows reaction time almost as much as if a person were drunk. Ever spend several hours on a boat and feel like your balance was off when you come back to shore? Imagine also having alcohol in your system!

Boating and alcohol are a deadly mix. Alcohol is involved in approximately 30 percent of boating fatalities in Oregon each year, 50-70 percent nationwide. A drug or alcohol impaired boat operator who is arrested for Boating Under the Influence of Intoxicants faces the following:

  • Could face fines of up to $6,250 and up to a year in jail
  • Must complete a boating safety class
  • Lose his or her boat operation privileges for a period of time
  • Have boat registrations suspended for up to three years

Most boaters think of collisions as the greatest threat when drinking on the water. However, according to BOAT/U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety, an estimated 75 percent of alcohol-related boating accidents and injuries do not involve collisions. The greatest threats when drinking while boating include falls on board, or overboard, and missteps at the dock or when getting into a dinghy.

Alcohol makes it harder to control the gasping reflex that occurs involuntarily when the face or upper body is suddenly immersed in cold water. An intoxicated person is more likely to inhale water into the lungs when plunged suddenly into cold water.

Our suggestion is to leave the booze in camp, not on the boat. If you DO consume alcohol in camp or at home and then go out on your boat, be very aware that the alcohol you’ve already consumed will have an enhanced effect in a boating environment…possibly leading to an arrest…or worse. Appoint a designated operator…and have a safe trip.