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Can You Drink on a Boat?

By July 11, 2017May 26th, 2022No Comments

Beers and boating seem to be a perfect pair—but are they? The safety attorneys at Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel suggest knowing 3 important facts before you have a beer on a boat:

1. The “designated driver” idea doesn’t apply to boats.

What??? No, we are not saying that a vessel operator can drink alcohol while driving the boat. What this means is that drunk passengers are at risk of getting injured regardless of whether the vessel operator is sober. In a car, passengers are strapped in. Unless they interfere with the driver, they generally can’t do anything that will cause great harm to themselves or others. On a boat, passengers generally move around—on a moving surface in an unpredictable environment. In 2016, 2/3 of California boating accident deaths were caused by a person leaving or being ejected from a boat, a person falling overboard or a person falling in a boat.[1] The Department of Boating and Waterways estimates that in about 2/3 of boating deaths related to alcohol, the victim fell overboard and drowned.

2. Drunk vessel operators can go to jail

Alcoholic drinks are not prohibited on water vessels like they are in cars. But operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is just as illegal as operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The legal limit for a water vessel operator’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08%. At that level or above, the operator is boating under the influence (BUI). Vessel operators with a BAC lower than .08% can also be found to be boating under the influence, if evidence such as their behavior shows they were under the influence. “Vessels” are those that can be actively propelled by machinery. Kayaks, canoes and rowboats don’t count. In addition to vessels, BUI applies to waterskis, aquaplanes and similar equipment. Penalties for BUI can include a fine up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail (or possibly longer, depending on the circumstances). If anyone is injured, an intoxicated vessel operator can face felony criminal charges. Many of the penalties that apply to driving a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs also apply to BUI, including the cumulative effects of having more than one BUI or DUI.

3. Drinking alcohol increases the likelihood of suffering from hypothermia

Yes, hypothermia happens even in our warm lakes. Average July temperatures around Redding, California run into the triple digits and average July water temperatures on Lake Shasta and Whiskeytown Lake are in the mid-70’s. No worries about anyone being too cold, right? Wrong. Hypothermia can occur even in “warm” water. Hypothermia, when a person’s body loses heat so quickly that the body temperature gets too low for the body to function properly, can cause disorientation, hyperventilation and muscle cramps. Extended exposure to any conditions below a person’s average body temperature can lead to hypothermia. The US Coast Guard says that in water temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees, most people reach the point of exhaustion or unconsciousness from hypothermia between two and twelve hours in the water.[2] After three hours in water of that temperature, some people will die of hypothermia. People who drink alcohol are at greater risk of accidentally falling into the water because of alcohol’s effect on balance and coordination. Once in the water, they are at higher risk of hypothermia because alcohol causes blood vessels to expand, resulting in faster loss of heat from the skin’s surface. The boating accident attorneys at Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel remind everyone heading to the lakes this summer that drinking and boating aren’t the idyllic pair they might seem to be. They suggest always wearing a life jacket to prevent drowning and make it easier to be seen in the water if you fall in. If you have been involved in a boating accident, contact Reiner, Slaughter & Frankel for a free consultation on how to get the help you need.