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Alcohol Related Boating Accidents On the Decline

Photo courtesy Flickr User heatheronhertravels

The majority of the public knows not to drink and drive, but new research finds they are becoming more aware of the dangers of boating while intoxicated.

Results from a ten year analysis from the Coast Guard find boating accidents with alcohol as a contributing factor have been steadily decreasing. According to the Coast Guard, 594 boating accidents nationwide were attributed to alcohol in 2001, a number that shrank to 361 in 2011.

John Fetterman, Director of Law Enforcement for the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) attributes the loss to the launch of Operation Dry Water in 2009. NASBLA launched a program with the goal of mobilizing marine law enforcement to crack down on boating while intoxicated, while at the same time focusing on educating the public about the issue.

Fetterman notes the program has been vastly successful, educating law enforcement about the importance of targeting intoxicated boaters and informing boaters to warn them of the dangers.

“When you’re intoxicated did you really see that channel marker? Were you going to fast along an intersecting waterway and not have the reaction time to avoid a collision. Were you using poor judgment in general getting too close to shore around swimming areas.”

He notes that one of the problems that caused the spike in alcohol related boating accidents is the recreational nature of boating, and most people associate any kind of recreational activity with alcohol.

“You go boating, you take a couple of six packs of beer, and you put them in the cooler and go out for the day fishing or recreational boating.” Says Fetterman.

He adds that many boaters would assume there is less danger they could get into operating a boat as opposed to driving a car.

“In a car you have eight and half feet of highway that you have to stay between the lines and hope that you don’t hit another car head on or go off into the trees.”

But he says what most people don’t realize is factors like the sun, heat, and vibrations exaggerate the effects of the alcohol.

“You compromised your ability to make good decisions and your ability to react great compromised.”

Fetterman believes one of the additional factors is the cultural change in perception, noting that at a certain point people get tired of too many drunks on the water.

“The soccer mom mentality that ‘if I perceive there’s risk associated with my children or my husband going boating, maybe we’re not going boating anymore.’’


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