We have all heard about driving while intoxicated and its effects. What is less often considered, however, is boating while intoxicated (BWI). For so many people, boating is synonymous with rest and relaxation; what better way to relax than with a couple of drinks? Unfortunately, that very thought is incredibly dangerous. Careless or reckless operation, often exacerbated by drinking alcohol, is the leading cause of boating injuries and deaths. The penalties for BWI are just as severe as those for drunk driving— and BWI is just as dangerous.
Think about it: many of the people who operate boats have spent less time operating a boat than they have spent driving a car. In a boat, factors such as the glare, heat, wind, sun, and spray can intensify the effects of alcohol. Those factors combined with the engine noise and the boat’s motion and vibration can cause fatigue and slow reaction times.
And not just reaction times are affected by drugs and alcohol. Alcohol affects the skills needed to operate a watercraft: ability to focus, peripheral vision, night vision, judgment, coordination, and balance. That means that, if you drink and operate a boat, in addition to being a danger to other boaters, you are a danger to yourself. A boat is an unstable platform, and a large percentage of boating fatalities result from passengers falling overboard. Alcohol decreases your coordination and impairs your abilities should you find yourself immersed in water. Good swimmers have drowned because they drank, drove a boat, fell overboard, and then, disorientated and dazed, swam down instead of to the water’s surface. It is tragic and unnecessary. That is why there are strict consequences in place for BWI offenders.
The penalties for a BWI conviction are the same as for a drunk-driving conviction: this could include jail time, expensive fines, probation, and a driver’s license revocation. You will also be stuck with a criminal offense on your record indefinitely.
In New York, you may be arrested for BWI for operating a boat, jet ski, or other watercraft with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher. Due to Zero Tolerance laws, the legal limit for minors is .02%. If a law enforcement officer notices a boat being driven erratically, he or she may pull the vessel over. During that time, the officer may then administer a series of field tests. Your BAC may be determined through a breath, blood, or urine test (New York law enforcement agents most commonly prefer to use the breathalyzer test).
I have been a personal injury attorney for more than 25 years, and I have seen too many accidents caused by BWI incidents. Thinking about boating should conjure up images of time spent relaxing and spending time with loved ones— without the alcohol. Remember to stay safe; your life and the lives of everyone else on the water depends on it.
Thanks for reading.