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Boating Under the Influence (BUI) of Alcohol and/or Drugs (legal or Illegal)
Can Be More Deadly Than Drinking & Driving!

The USCG BUI Initiative includes information on:

  1. Significant Dangers Associated With BUI
  2. Effects of Alcohol On-The-Water (OTW)
  3. Ways of Estimating Level of Impairment
  4. Enforcement & Penalties
  5. Tips for Avoiding BUI

National Boating Under the Influence Awareness & Enforcement Campaign - "Operation Dry Water"

BUI can carry same penalties as a DUI

Don't Drink & Ride
Boat/US Magazine,  May 2002

by Elaine Dickinson

One of the most comprehensive studies of drinking and boating conducted in over a decade concludes what some in boating have suspected for a long time: that a passenger on board a boat has the same increased risk of being injured or killed as the boat's operator if both have been drinking.

The study compared the relative risk of being injured or killed in a boating accident involving alcohol to see if the risk differed between the boat operator and the passengers on board. Conducted by a team of doctors from the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and the University of North Carolina, the results were published in the December 19, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Because the risk of boating and alcohol has never really been documented, an easy assumption is that boating fatalities involving alcohol are the result of a drunken operator crashing the boat," said Dr. Gordon Smith, associate professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who co-authored the report. "But the truth is that most deaths are due to drowning and the majority involve falling overboard... Only about half the fatalities involve operator error and about half of all deaths occur when the boat is not even moving."

Not only was there no difference in the relative risk between boat operators and passengers, it also did not matter if the boat was underway or stationary and risk did not vary among boat types. Apparently, alcohol consumption is a great equalizer because the study also found no difference in risk between males or females or black or white boaters.

"They used excellent methodology and this is as credible a scientific study as you can get, considering the accident data that's available," said Bill Gossard, senior transportation safety analyst for the National Transportation Safety Board. "Certainly, as a result of this study educational efforts should be reoriented to the passengers as well as the operator."

The study analyzed 221 fatalities among boaters 18 and older in Maryland and North Carolina that occurred between April and October from 1990 to 1998. These fatalities were compared with a control group in the same states and boating areas. The control group was obtained from over 3,000 on-the-water interviews and breathalyzer tests during the same months over three summers, 1997 to 1999.

The most sobering findings were that one's relative risk of dying increased with the boater's blood alcohol concentration (BAC), and even a slightly elevated level created a significant risk. A BAC of .05, which is within the legal limit for driving a car, made a boater four times more likely to die in an accident. A boater with a BAC of .10 was 10 times more likely to die; a BAC of .25 brought the risk to more than 50 times. This risk did not vary between operator or passenger.

The study found that 30% to 40% of boaters surveyed for the control group reported drinking while boating. Since it is well known that alcohol impairs one's balance and coordination, a fall overboard can be deadly since the alcohol will also impair one's ability to survive once in the water, the report points out.

Some safety campaigns have applied the "designated driver" concept for automobiles to boats, but this new report casts doubt on this approach. "If you've got a stone-cold sober boat operator and an impaired passenger, that passenger is still at high risk," said Dr. Robert D. Foss, research scientist at UNC who also worked on this project. Having a "designated skipper" may actually give passengers a false sense of security in thinking it's okay to drink to excess on a boat as long as a boat operator stays sober. The latest research clearly shows this is not the case.

While virtually every state has a law banning boating while under the influence (BUI), and the U.S. Coast Guard likewise has set .08 BAC as the federal standard for intoxication, state laws only pertain to the operator of a vessel. Utah passed a bill this spring banning an open alcohol container in the hand of a skipper, however enforcement will be difficult.

"The big challenge is to change the prevailing thinking that it's safe to drink as long as you're not the one at the helm," said Jim Ellis, head of the Boat U.S Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water. "This study reemphasizes the important point that measures to reduce deaths and injuries from BUT have to go far beyond the boat operator."

COPYRIGHT 2002 Boat Owners Association
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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