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A holiday reminder that boating and alcohol don't mix

July 2, 2010 | 12:07 pm


The Independence Day weekend is expected to bring record numbers of boaters, sailors and anglers to the water. This national day of celebration usually includes American flags, fireworks and hot dogs, but oftentimes alcohol is in the mix as well.

To help try to keep those on the water unscathed and incident free, Boat Owners Assn. of the United States, the nation's leading advocate for recreational boaters, offers the following tips for a safe and sane July 4 weekend:

-- Designated drivers are good -- but don't forget your guests. "To use a designated skipper would seem like welcome advice," says Bob Adriance, BoatU.S.' director of damage avoidance. "However, having a designated skipper aboard may suggest to everyone else that they are free to drink as much as they want, and that's the trouble."

BoatU.S. insurance statistics show that even sober boating guests are at risk for injury, so adding alcohol to the mix only increases the risk of injury.

Adriance says guests' lack of basic boating skills are the main reason. "Someone who boats infrequently may not be familiar with wakes, docking, or boarding, which increases their chances of falling overboard," he said. "Boat operators need to really ask themselves, 'How much attention can I devote to watching inebriated guests while trying to safely make my way home?'"
-- For the boat's operator, even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of an accident. The July 4th celebrations mean many boaters will be running at night. The challenge is that small amounts of alcohol lower a boater's ability to discern moving objects, faint lights, and unlit objects on the water, and it also takes very little alcohol to affect a person's night vision. Glare from a masthead light or the moon can significantly impair night vision when blood alcohol levels are as low as .01%, or about half a beer.

Alcohol also affects peripheral vision. Even small amounts affect a person’s ability to judge the speed and distance of an approaching boat.

-- Sun, wind and waves take their toll. On the holiday weekend many boaters, sailors or anglers will stay out all day. However, a few hours in the sun combined with the wind, motion, noise and vibration typically found aboard a boat can produce "boater's hypnosis," which reduces an operator's performance as much as alcohol would. U.S. Coast Guard tests found that an operator who has two beers and four hours of exposure to the elements can be expected to demonstrate the equivalent performance of a rested operator who has had six beers.

The best advice? "Know when it's time to call it a day and save the alcohol for when you are safely back home," said Chris Edmonston, director of boating safety at the BoatU.S. Foundation.

Here's wishing all Outposts readers a fun and safe holiday weekend!

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: No word on if alcohol played a part in this accident. Credit: Boat Owners Assn. of the United States

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