Boating and sailing are primarily leisure activities, and many people thus treat it differently than driving a car. For anyone operating the boat, however, the responsibilities should be taken seriously. This is especially so when it comes to drinking or using drugs. The operator of a boat or a jet ski is subject to arrest for boating under the influence (BUI). It’s the same as a driver of car would be for driving under the influence.
I can’t recall a fatal drinking accident on the York River, but several years ago on the Rappahannock several people died when a speeding drunken boater hit a buoy late at night.
The dangers of drinking while operating a boat are important and heavily documented. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, alcohol use was primarily to blame for 91 boating fatalities in 2015. That’s the most of any primary factor. All told, alcohol use was the primary contributing factor in 260 boating accidents resulting in 228 injuries in 2015, the latest for which national data is available.
Drunken boat driving might not seem as serious as drinking and driving, given the relative lack of traffic on the water. But the effects of even one drink can severely impair an operator’s ability to make good decisions while behind the wheel or on the tiller. The combination of heat, glare and noise that an operator experiences while boating can exacerbate alcohol’s effects on the senses, equilibrium and judgment. Simply put, drunken boating is never safe behavior.
That’s why every state has laws against BUI. Even if an accident does not occur, the legal consequences of a BUI arrest or conviction are severe. In many cases a conviction can result in a heavy fine and even jail time. Often a BUI arrest or conviction can mean the loss of one’s driver’s license as well.
The most obvious way to avoid a BUI arrest is to not drink when boating. Other strategies include not operating a boat for at least one hour for each drink you have had. Check the laws of your state to see whether an individual can be charged with BUI for operating a canoe or kayak while drunk. Finally, check out the accompanying illustration for tips.