Recently, a 20-foot boat with five passengers collided with a navigational buoy at Fort De Soto Park. Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission officers suspect alcohol played a part in the crash, which left one passenger in critical condition.
This incident, however, is not unique. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, as many as one-third of all fatal boating accidents involve alcohol.
Why is boating while under the influence of alcohol so dangerous?
The effects of alcohol on the body lead to a decreased awareness, slower reaction time, loss of balance and coordination, and impaired judgment. All of these are known dangers on a road, and they are no less dangerous in the water.
The Coast Guard notes that water adds to the impairment of alcohol in a number of ways:
First, the Coast Guard notes that the boating experience involves a number of subconscious stressors such as the rocking of the boat, the engine noise and vibration, the sun, wind and spray. Once the impairment of alcohol sets in these stressors exacerbate its effects.
Additionally, many people boat recreationally, and thus have an attitude of relaxation that leads to carelessness about their surroundings.
Third, most boaters are not as experienced on the boat as they are in their vehicles, and therefore do not handle the sudden appearance of another boat, debris or navigational buoy with the same control as they would handle a motor vehicle.
Fourth, the effects of alcohol can lead to drowning or hypothermia when a passenger is thrown overboard. Alcohol can make it difficult for an individual to orient to the surface of the water, and the warm feeling that the ingestion of alcohol provides may hide the dangers of hypothermia until it is too late.
Florida leads the country in boating fatalities. While boating can and should be a fun recreational activity, it is important to do so safely, without alcohol, to avoid an accident at sea.