Dry Waters: The Fight Against Impaired Boating


Boating season is in full force and as the temperature gets hotter, boaters will be flocking to their nearest lakes and oceans for weekends out on the water. While many boaters may just want to enjoy the cool breeze and the soft laps of the waves, others may want to crack open a cold one.

Unfortunately, drinking alcohol and boating is not a good mix, and the numbers back it up. In 2016, there were more recreational boating fatalities in the United States than any time in the past five years, according to a report by the United States Coast Guard. There were 701 deaths up from 626 the previous year. 87 of the 701 fatalities were contributed to alcohol use.

These numbers might be frightening, but several state and local areas are fighting back. Learn about what’s being done to crack down on impaired boating, so that you can ride the waters in safety this summer.

Alcohol’s Effect on Boaters

Everyone knows that drinking and driving is dangerous, but many people may not be aware of alcohol’s effect while out boating and that it seriously increases your chances of getting into an accident.

In fact, alcohol is even more hazardous on the water than on land due to a variety of factors including boat motion, engine noise, the wind, and the sun’s rays, according to the USCG. All of these elements make it difficult for a boater to maintain control over the boat and reduces their judgment and reaction time.

Alcohol also has tremendous physical effects on a boater when they drink. Here are a few things that can happen to a boater when impaired, according to the USCG:

  • Lack of coordination, balance problems, and delayed reaction time;
  • Affected vision, including poor focus, decreased night vision, reduced depth perception, and difficulty identifying colors;
  • Inner ear problems which can make it difficult for a person who falls into the water to know up from down; and
  • A physical sensation of warmth from the alcohol that can cause a boater to not get out of cold water before hypothermia sets in.

All of these effects can cause a boat operator to get into an accident, especially with a high blood alcohol concentration. The impaired boat operator is not the only one that is at risk of an injury or even death, as passengers who have been also drinking alcohol are in the same situation.

Impaired Boating Accidents

Over the years, there have been many accidents on the water due to impaired boating. The warm temperatures have just begun and already there have been a string of boating accidents due to alcohol use.

On Jun. 11, a 54-year-old man was charged with boating under the influence in Blount County, Tennessee, according to WBIR News. The boat operator was with two other passengers when he crashed the boat into the dock on Ft. Loudon Lake. The impact of the collision caused the boat to fly 12 feet into the air and come crashing down on top of another boat, before the dock collapsed onto both watercrafts.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured from the crash. “I’ve never seen an accident like this where there wasn’t a fatality involved. This accident is a prime example of why alcohol and boating don’t mix,” Blount County Wildlife Officer Mitch Clure told WBIR News.

On Jun. 3, a De Pere man and his three passengers sustained injuries after a boat crash on Green Bay, according to WBAY News. The De Pere man was operating the boat while drunk when it crashed into the Cat Island rock wall. The force of the impact resulted in the passengers being thrown around.

Investigators found lots of alcohol beverage bottles on the boat after the crash. “We do know there was a lot of open, there was a lot of empty and there was still full containers of alcohol inside the boat. All we know was that they were going fast,” Capt. Dan Sandberg of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office told WBIR News.

The injured boat driver was arrested and charged with boating under the influence.

What’s Being Done to Prevent Impaired Boating this Summer Season?

You may be wondering if anything is being done to prevent boating under the influence accidents from occurring this summer and there is. Fortunately, many cities and towns will be participating in a national safety initiative against this predicament.

Operation Dry Water is a national campaign against boating while intoxicated that will take place from June 30 to July 2. The campaign hopes to heighten awareness and enforcement during the three-day Fourth of July holiday weekend, which has become synonymous with drinking and boating.

Since the launch of Operation Dry Water in 2009, the number of boating fatalities has decreased by 24 percent in the U.S.

Some areas that are participating in Operation Dry Water are already working to crackdown on impaired boating, including Lake George. The Lake George Park Commission Marine Patrol have increased night patrols with two boats on the lake after 8 p.m., according to The Post-Star.

The patrols have already produced results. On Jun. 17, two men were charged with a misdemeanor for boating while intoxicated and speeding in a no-wake zone, according to the Post-Star. The previous weekend, the patrol stopped a boat with six intoxicated teenagers, and seized over 76 beers and a bottle of tequila. The teenagers were all ticketed for underage drinking.

In South Dakota, the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office teamed up with the South Dakota Game Fish and Parks for a day of training on boating safety and spotting impaired boaters in preparation for the summer season, according to Black Hills Fox News. The training is focusing on drinking and boating due to several deaths that have occurred over the years because of alcohol.

“We started off on day one in the classroom and a lot of that was field sobriety tests. So teaching officers to be in the marine environment, to notice those clues that there could be an impaired operator, and running that operator through a series of tests so we can determine whether or not they are ok to drive,” Joe Keeton, a Game Fish and Parks Law Enforcement specialist, told Black Hills Fox News.

What If I’m Hurt in an Accident Due to an Impaired Boat Operator?

Boating on the open water can be a fun and tranquil experience that can make those hot summer days more enjoyable, but when alcohol comes into the mix, it can lead to disastrous consequences for everyone on the water.

If you or a loved one were injured in a boating accident due to an impaired boat operator, we can help. To learn more about how our boat accident attorneys may be able to help you, please fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.