Boating Safety and Alcohol


With Seafair festivities just around the corner and beautiful weather ahead it’s time to start thinking about boating safety. In 2011, the Coast Guard counted 4588 boating related accidents that involved 758 deaths, 3081 injuries and approximately $52 million dollars of damage to property as a result of recreational boating accidents, with alcohol being the leading factor in 16% of all boating fatalities. The crime of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) in Washington State is a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

In 2011 there were 93 boating accidents and 15 deaths in Washington State. In the event of an emergency, swimming may be necessary for survival, requiring coordination, judgment, vision and balance; all of which are affected by alcohol consumption. The 2011 Coast Guard report shows the number one reason for alcohol-related boating deaths is coordination impairment after falling in the water. When normal brain activity becomes delayed cognitive abilities and judgment are decreased. It is crucial to have fully functioning cognitive skills when operating a boat because there are many variables that can lead to an accident.

With other swimmers, boaters and inanimate objects to avoid, it is important to be as alert as possible at all times. Having sharp vision is crucial to avoid these variables and when under the influence of alcohol, nearly all aspects of vision are impaired. Decreased depth perception, peripheral vision, night vision, ability to distinguish colors and poor focus leave intoxicated boaters 10 times more likely to die than sober boaters.

Even though the summer brings warm weather and in some cases warm water, to an intoxicated individual the ability to judge temperature is impaired. Alcohol creates a physical sensation of warmth that can lead the boater to thinking that they are comfortable when in fact they are more susceptible to hypothermia. When falling into colder water the boater might not remove himself from the situation quickly enough due to these factors and injury or death can occur.

Middle ear impairment from alcohol can confuse a man overboard to distinguish up from down, causing greater risk of drowning than a sober individual. In many cases boaters do not wear life jackets with the assumption that only smaller children who don’t know how to swim need them. The intoxicated individual is usually on a boat with others who have been drinking as well so the likelihood of a successful water rescue is limited.

All of these factors, combined with sun, noise, wind and spray experienced while boating accelerate and increase a drinker’s impairment and can have deadly consequences. It is important to be aware of your surroundings and the fact that not all boaters are as responsible as yourself. Make sure to always have a life jacket readily available for each person on the vessel, including adults. Accidents can occur without warning so it is important to be prepared in the event of a water vessel capsizing. While you might be a strong swimmer, if you are far from a dock at the time of an accident help may be hours away.

Have you been an unfortunate victim of a boating accident?

At Phillips Law Firm our personal injury attorneys are dedicated to getting you justice and compensation you deserve. Call Phillips Law Firm at 1-800-708-6000, we are waiting to assist you 24/7, offering a free case evaluation. Remember our no fee promise. If we do not recover anything for you, you do not owe us an attorney fee