Alcohol and Boating

Think Before You Drink

Almost half of all boating accidents involve alcohol. That should be reason enough to leave alcohol consumption for when you are safely ashore with no plans to travel. Operating a boat while intoxicated is a federal offense, alcoholandboatingsubject to a $1,000 fine. Add to that - criminal penalties, which are as high as $5,000, things get expensive real quick and may even include jail time.State Boating Under the Influence Laws are becoming more stringent too. In most states, the standards for determining whether an individual is intoxicated matches its state highway laws for operating a vehicle. Please consider:
  • In most states it is illegal to operate a boat with a blood alcohol content of .08% or greater.
  • Some states will suspend your boating license or privilege.
  • In some states your driving record could be affected.
  • Your boat could be seized or sold at auction.

Tip #1: If you plan to drink, don’t go boating, or save your alcohol for when you’ve arrived safely back at the dock.

The Affects of Alcohol

BALANCE: Balance is critical on a boat. Simply falling overboard and drowning accounts for at least one in four boating fatalities.

JUDGEMENT: Alcohol reduces inhibitions, causing normally cautious people to try stunts or enter high-risk situations a sober person would avoid.

REACTION: Alcohol severely diminishes your ability to react to several different signals at once. It takes longer to receive information from your eyes, ears and other senses, and still more time to react. Reduced night vision and the inability to distinguish red from green makes the intoxicated night boater an even greater hazard.

Boating Stressors

Stressors, such as exposure to noise, vibration, sun, glare, wind and the motion of the water, affects boat operators and passengers making drinking while boating even more dangerous than drinking and driving.Research shows that hours of exposure to boating stressors on the water produces a kind of a fatigue, or “boater’s hypnosis” which slows reaction time almost as much as if you were legally drunk. Adding alcohol or drugs to boating stress-factors intensifies their affects – each drink multiplies your accident risk.

Tip #2: You’re already fatigued when you’re out on the water from exposure to sun, motion, and the noise and vibration of your boat’s engine. Alcohol impairs your ability further.

Myth or Fact?


Myth: Beer is less intoxicating than wine or distilled liquor.

Fact: One 12 oz. beer contains the same amount of alcohol as 5 oz. of wine or 1.5 oz. of 80-proof liquor.

Myth: A cold shower, coffee, physical activity or fresh air will sober you up,

Fact: Cold showers and coffee will only produce a clean, wide-awake drunk. Only your liver can detoxify alcohol and only time can sober you up.

Myth: A shot of brandy or whiskey will warm you up.

Fact: In moderate amounts, alcohol dilates the blood vessels close to the skin, giving a deceptive “glow” of warmth. In fact, the dilated blood vessels reduce your body’s ability to guard against heat loss.

Boating under the Influence (BUI) or Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) is a serious offense and seriously affects boat handling - take our word for it. To learn more about the declining performance of a boat operator when exposed to alcohol, check out our Foundation Findings #32 “Alcohol and Boating: Drinking on Your Boat – It Really Does Matter.”