“Boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs is extremely dangerous in addition to being illegal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matthew White, assistant chief of the 9th Coast Guard District Enforcement Branch. “Operating any boat while under the influence endangers yourself, your passengers and other boaters. It can also result in significant fines and land you in jail.
“However, we would rather hand you over to the police than have to tell your family you’ve been killed or injured in a boating accident,” he added.
In one instance, a Coast Guard boarding team located marijuana on a vessel. The vessel operator provided a medical-marijuana card, but admitted to smoking marijuana on the pontoon boat. Since it is illegal to operate a vessel under the influence of drugs, the boarding officer cited the operator for boating under the influence.
In another situation in Lake Michigan near Wilmette Harbor, Ill., a Coast Guard crew was responding to the report of an 18-foot boat with nine people aboard taking on water. Five of the people swam to shore and four remained aboard the vessel to dewater it. When the Coast Guard crew arrived, they learned all nine people were intoxicated and all of them were under the legal drinking age. Once safely ashore, Chicago police officers took all nine teenagers into custody.
Of the 19 citations issued to vessel operators, eight individuals were transferred to police custody, including the teenage vessel operator.
In the marine environment, stressors such as noise, wind, sun and wave action can accelerate the effects of impairment, increasing the likelihood of a serious boating accident.
A boat operator or passenger with a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit runs a significantly increased risk of being involved in a boating accident. When impaired by alcohol, boating accidents are more likely and more deadly for both passengers and boat operators — many of whom capsize their vessel or simply fall overboard.
BUI is a primary contributing factor in nearly one in five boating fatalities. However, boat operators are not the only ones at grave risk. On the Great Lakes each year, boating passengers who are under the influence tragically drown while swimming from anchored or adrift vessels, or after an unexpected fall overboard.
Many of those who drown were not wearing a lifejacket.
Federal and state laws prohibit the operation of vessels while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Penalties for BUI can include large fines, revocation of operator privileges, jail time and civil liability.