Can Imposing Tougher Alcohol Laws Reduce Boating Accident Rates?

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Alcohol has always been one of the leading causes for boating accidents across the nation. Alcohol can affect boaters in much more severe ways than for regular automobile drivers due to the motion of the water, heat from the outdoors and other factors that can amplify a pilot’s intoxication level. But while there are states that impose BUI (Boating Under the Influence) regulations, not all states have laws to protect water-goers from harm by a drunk pilot.

Many activists in the maritime community believe that the same penalties associated with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) charge should apply to boaters, and it starts by imposing a strict limit on blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. The nation-wide consensus for automobile drivers regarding the minimum level at which a motorist can be charged with DUI is 0.08 percent BAC level for drivers 21 years of age and older (commercial vehicle driver and minor limits are much lower). These laws apply to all “motor vehicle” driving, which even extends to snowmobiles, so why shouldn’t the same rules apply for boaters?

As it stands now, most states impose a BAC limit for boaters. Some states set the limit at 0.08 percent, the same as for automobile driving, but others have the limit set at 0.10 percent, like Colorado and Michigan, and that extra 0.02 percent can be more damaging than anyone can imagine. Just one drink can cause over a 0.02 increase in intoxication levels for a motorist, and coupled with being outdoors and in motion, the difference can be drastic enough to cause a serious boating accident.

The Coast Guard has tried to impose tight penalties for intoxicated boaters, including expensive fines, revocation of a boating license and even imprisonment, but too many people get away with injuring or even killing other boaters or people in the water because they are under the influence. When it comes to creating or amending boating laws, it is usually a matter where state jurisdiction applies – at least in waters that are only overseen by states.

There are states in which a BUI conviction carries the same penalties as a regular DUI, such as in Alaska, which considers BUI and DUI to be the exact same crime and motorists caught operating boats under the influence will have their regular driver’s license revoked as a consequence. However, the unfortunate reality is that some states don’t even have BUI laws in place.

Below is a list of states in which a BUI conviction can impact a motorist’s regular driving privileges:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Utah

Only the aforementioned 13 states consider a BUI as severe as a DUI to merit driver’s license revocation. That is simply atrocious. Florida is NOT on that list, and it’s the state with the most number of recorded boating accidents!

Hopefully one day there will be a nation-wide imposition of Boating Under the Influence laws that will not only lower the BAC level for all pilots, but increase the severity of penalties for those found consuming alcohol and operating their water crafts. There have been many instances when states have modified their existing motor vehicle DUI laws to tighten them and this has reduced the number of accidents significantly. No one wants to spend thousands of dollars in penalties for a BUI crash or place themselves at risk for going to jail.

It’s important for all boaters and water-lovers to stay as safe as possible, especially now that boating season is under way. There are many things people can do to stay safe during boating season, including wearing life jackets, ensuring vessels are driven at a safe speed, and of course, refraining from drinking alcohol.

But while it’s a given that no one who is manning the helm of a boat or personal water craft should ever have even the slightest amount of alcohol in their system, unfortunately though, as with DUI laws, there are some people that just don’t care and will violate the laws no matter what they are.

When someone is injured or killed because of another boater’s reckless decision to operate their vessel while consuming alcohol or other illicit substances, surviving victims and the loved ones of the deceased have a right to turn to a boating accident attorney for help in filing a case and fighting for compensation for their pain and suffering.

Although nothing can erase what transpires in the wake of an alcohol-related boat crash, victims should know they have the right to at least obtain some semblance of justice for the wrongs another negligent operator has committed.