Updated March 6, 2020
Warm weather sends many families and friends to area lakes and rivers to enjoy our beautiful Tennessee landscape. For many, indulging in alcoholic beverages while on the water is a regular part of summer festivities. But every boater needs to know the risks of boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs (BUI).
It is illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in every state. The Coast Guard also enforces a federal law that prohibits BUI. This law pertains to ALL boats from canoes and rowboats to the largest ships. But the biggest risk is that it’s dangerous – just as dangerous as driving a car under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Just ask Alex Otte. When she was 13 years old, she was on a jet ski on Lake Herrington in Danville, KY, when a bass boat going over 60 miles an hour ran into her, flipping the boat and landing on top of her. When Fish and Wildlife showed up on the scene and arrested the man, he was three times over the legal limit two hours later.
As for Alex, she shattered her jaw, broke her neck and collarbone, shattered both femurs, and lacerated her liver. She also suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (akin to Shaken Baby Syndrome) and was in a coma for 4 days. Though the prognosis didn’t look good, she survived. However, when she finally woke up, she found that she had lost her right leg.
Now, ten years later at the age of 23, Alex, a recent college graduate, is working for the National Association of Boating Law Administrators. She’s doing extensive research to identify what is known about Boating Under the Influence of drugs and alcohol, determine what we still need to understand, and find solutions for what can be done to combat it. Currently, BUI laws nationwide are largely unenforced and the punishment for getting caught is much more lenient than the punishment for Driving Under the Influence (DUI). For example, despite having three priors DUIs on his record, the man who hit Alex was only charged $250.
Alex hopes to change that. She supports the idea that, ideally, the fines and penalties for BUI should be the same as for DUI. She hopes that with education and research, more people will realize that BUI is a dangerous crime that needs to be taken seriously.
BOATING UNDER THE INFLUENCE FACTS:
- Alcohol impairs judgment and coordination—two qualities essential for safe boating.
- At .035% BAC a boater’s ability to operate a boat is impaired.
- The environment on a boat – motion, vibration, engine noise, sun, wind and spray – accelerates a drink’s impairment. These stressors cause fatigue that makes a boat operator’s coordination, judgment and reaction time decline even faster when using alcohol.
- Alcohol can also be more dangerous to boaters because boat operators are often less experienced and less confident on the water than on the highway. Recreational boaters don’t have the benefit of experiencing daily boat operation. In fact, boaters average only 110 hours on the water per year.