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Drinking alcohol can dangerously rock the boat

July 17, 2011
By ANITA HANABURGH , For The Leader Herald

As we stepped into a motor boat recently, my friend looked at his open Bud Light and joked, "Is there an open container law for boating?" I stopped and thought. I didn't know. The cooler full of cold drinks was then loaded onto the deck. It was a hot, sunny day and that Bud looked pretty good. As the others reached for a drink from the cooler, I opened a container of iced tea as I was the operator of the boat.

I did not find any evidence of a New York state law prohibiting an open container of alcohol on a boat. I did refresh my knowledge of the BWI laws in New York state. The penalties for a BWI conviction are the same as for a drunk-driving conviction, and could include jail time, expensive fines, probation and a driver's license revocation. You also could be stuck with a criminal offense on your record indefinitely.

Everyone knows driving while intoxicated is a serious issue, but few people give thought to boating while intoxicated. After all, many people associate boats with rest and relaxation, and what are more relaxing than a couple of drinks while cruising the seas? Unfortunately, the penalties for BWI are just as severe as for drunk driving. Like it's four-wheeled cousin, impairment is a violation, although the fine and predicate possibilities are somewhat different. The actual initial conviction permits imposition of a fine of not less than $250 or more than $350, or by imprisonment for not more than 15 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

In New York, you may be arrested for BWI for operating a boat, jet ski, or other motorized watercraft. The vehicle must be moving not just running. If checked while operating such a vehicle, you will be arrested if your blood-alcohol content is 0.08 percent or higher. Your BAC may be determined through a breath, blood, or urine test. New York state law enforcement agents commonly administer the breathalyzer test to test for the level of alcohol consumption of the boat driver.

But why would I have a boat if I couldn't drink and drive it? Can't steer without a beer? Well, drinking and boating may be even more dangerous than drinking and driving. Factors such as the engine noise, motion and vibration of the boat can intensify the effects of alcohol and/or drugs. Many people operating boats are not conditioned to the hot sun, the wind and spray. Adding to the danger, many people operating a boat have not had much experience even if they are the owner of the boat. Oh busboy, just compare the hours driving a boat to the hours you drive a car.

By nature of boating, people drink while operating a boat much more often than they drink while driving a car. The boat is a vehicle of recreation. The car is a vehicle of transportation.

The percentage of people operating a boat while drinking is estimated between 60 and 80 percent. At least 36 percent of all fatal boating accidents in New York are proven to be caused by a drunken operator. It is estimated that another 50 percent of boating accidents also have alcohol involvement although not registered as such. Statistics show that a boat operator with a BAC as low as 0.01 percent is more likely to die in a boating accident that a sober boat operator.

Consuming alcohol or drugs affects the many skills necessary to operate a watercraft: ability to focus, peripheral vision, night vision, judgment, coordination, balance, and reaction time. Loss of these skills is dangerous. Most boating accidents are caused by drowning/falling out of the boat. An intoxicated passenger can lose the ability to coordination movement and react to motion - skills vital to boat safety.

New York laws are very strict and the officers take this issue seriously. Driving erratically or recklessly are causes for stopping the boat or bringing it to shore. Note that the New York laws prohibiting the service of alcohol to minors is as true for boats as cars. Please

Please note that the sale of alcohol to minors is the same in red areas as in all restaurants. It is important to know that the responsible party for violations is the driver so think twice before having a hardy party on your vehicle. Be advised that the owner of the boat may be liable if an accident occurs even if they are not personally involved.

I suggest you check the laws and if you must drink and drive, take your lawyer boating with you.

For more information, look at the New York state boater's guide from

The Law: New York state legislation's "Boating While Intoxicated" blood-alcohol content threshold is 0.08 percent. Under the law, a person found to have a BAC level of 0.08 or more while boating will lose the privilege to operate a boat for one year, and will also be subject to a fine of up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

Restaurant Watch: Restaurants on water need to watch the drinks consumed by the drivers of boats as well as the drivers of cars.



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