The July 4th holiday is expected to bring record numbers of boaters, sailors and anglers to the water. Along with hot dogs and apple pie, alcohol will be on hand for many on this national day of celebration. Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.) has three tips that can help ensure it's also a safe holiday for everyone aboard.
Designated drivers are good, but don't forget your guests. "To use a designated skipper would seem like welcome advice," says BoatU.S. Director of Damage Avoidance Bob Adriance. "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."
The BoatU.S. insurance claims files don't lie-statistics show that sober boating guests are much more likely to be injured on a boat than the captain and regular crew. Adding alcohol to the mix only increases the risk for 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 percent, 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-all conditions expected on recreational boating's busiest traffic time of the year.
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 BoatU.S. Foundation Director of Boating Safety Chris Edmonston.
For more information on alcohol and boating, go to www.BoatUS.com/foundation/guide/trip_12.html. To see how some boaters faired in a test of operating a boat under the influence, visit www.BoatUS.com/foundation/Findings/new_alcohol_boating.htm.