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Booze and Boats

Old 04-17-2019, 09:13 AM
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Default Booze and Boats

LBWR (long but worth reading) to preempt the TLDR!

Dave nudged me and nodded toward a small sailboat that was motoring by. I was wrapping up a field sobriety test on a gentleman who registered a BAC of .099 back when the legal standard was .10. I had just asked the operator if he would mind hanging out on the dock for a while to process a little more alcohol out of his system before he took the helm again. The operator was not legally intoxicated, but he had displayed some indicators of impairment that left me concerned for his safety and the safety of others. He gladly complied with my request that he stay put.

I turned my attention to the sailboat that Dave pointed out. The tide was low, and the dock we were on was elevated. The channel was narrow there, and the dock essentially served as the port side inbound channel marker. Dave and I looked down at the operator. He was mere inches away from hitting the dock. He was hanging onto the boom with his hands while his feet were being used to operate the tiller. Captain Happy glanced up to see two uniformed Coast Guard officers glaring at him and audibly sighed “Oh s#*%.”

We scrambled aboard our boat, pulled alongside Captain Happy and asked him to kill his engine. Dave started filling out our standard boarding paperwork while I took the boat in side tow to the closest dock. As a matter of practice, during the course of filling out our paperwork and checking the safety gear we are closely observing the operator. To say that Captain Happy displayed behavioral indicators of intoxication is a gross understatement. Because of that, Dave began administering a series of short field sobriety tests. At the time we administered as many as eight tests. Dave had given the captain four tests, the results of which were downright disastrous. Dave continued “Captain, the next test I am going to give you is a palm pat.” As Dave was demonstrating how Captain Happy was to do the test, Captain Happy threw his hands up in the air in exasperated fashion and remarked “well G-#*mn Officer Dave, if you can’t tell I’m drunk by now, maybe it’s you that should be taking this test.”

For some reason or another in our culture booze and boats are inextricably intertwined. On our very own Coast Guard base in Yorktown the name of the convenience store where folks go to buy their beer is called the “Mariner’s Mart.” Last week I ordered a pair of boating/fishing shorts. When I took them out of the package and placed them on the table I heard a clang. I discovered the shorts came with a bottle opener attached to them. We see the connection everywhere. Unfortunately the combination of booze and boats is an especially dangerous one.

Studies have shown that the sun, the glare, the wind, the heat and the movement of boats combine to have an impairing effect on us. Run “Environmental Stressors in Boating” through the internet search engine of your choice if you want to research it a bit. Adding the influences of alcohol to those environmental stressors is all too often a fatal mistake. Alcohol is cited as a contributing factor in about 20% of boating accidents and fatalities. I strongly recommend abstinence on the part of the captain. If passengers are going to drink, they should do so in moderation. There are several reasons for this. A number of times through the years I have been involved in cases where the captain had become incapacitated and passengers had to take over. I have also seen intoxicated passengers do spectacularly stupid things and otherwise exercise poor judgement.

A military family had rented a pontoon boat from the local military base. The operator and passengers had been drinking. Not to excess mind you, but enough to perhaps cause them to drop their guard. The young military member decided to ignore the warning sign to remain inside the front gate of the boat while it was in motion. He and his female companion were sitting outside the gate with their feet dangling over the bow. They were traveling at a fairly sedate estimated 15 MPH. There was a lot of recreational boat traffic, and the associated wakes, on the river that day. The rented pontoon came off of the wake of a passing boat. As the bow dipped into the trough between two waves, the young military man’s legs dragged through the water. The pressure of the water pushing against his legs pulled him off of the boat. The pontoons served as a funnel, directing the airman straight into the propeller spinning at over 4000 RPMs. His head hit the propeller, and he was killed instantly. Administering a sobriety test to his distraught father was one of the most difficult things I did over the course of my career.

I picked up bits and pieces of the garbled VHF radio call. I made out the words “missing men, Chef Pass and The Superdome.” The annual Ship Island Rendezvous, we had to quit calling it the Ship Island “Bash,” was winding down and people were headed home. Efforts by many Coast Guard and state units to establish further communications failed. We began piecing together a search plan to try to locate the caller or the missing men. Ship Island is nowhere near Chef Pass or the Superdome. Our Coast Guard SAR controllers were concentrating on Chef Pass and the Superdome. I implored them to let me search in between Ship Island and the Coast Coliseum, reckoning that in the eyes of a drunk boater the Coliseum would look like the dome. I got a state Marine Resources officer to help me out.

Good fortune smiled on us and we located the boat that made the radio call. They had indeed been mistaking the Coliseum for the Dome. According to an obviously impaired operator, the two missing men had “just disappeared.” I put together a quick search plan involving my team and the Marine Resources officer. Before long, the Marine Resources officer located one survivor. We located the other shortly thereafter. They were nearly a mile apart and exhausted to the point that they collapsed on deck when we brought them aboard. They were minutes from death.

They decided it would be cool to do what they described as a “Baywatch” style roll off of the boat. As is most often the case with intoxicated boaters, the remaining six men on the boat were not paying much attention to what was going on around them. Nobody noticed right away. Not knowing where they departed the boat or even having a reasonable time frame upon which we could establish our commence search point, made locating the missing men a statistical improbability.

When I made it back to the boat the men had jumped from, I conducted a field sobriety test on the operator. He tried to plead with me that he wasn’t the captain but had taken the helm because he was the most sober one on the boat. The most sober person on a boat should never register a BAC of .16. He was charged with BUI.

The maritime environment can be harsh and unforgiving. It’s not the place to be with diminished faculties. Enjoy the nautical world with complete clarity of mind and save the celebrating for when you get home.



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Old 04-17-2019, 09:18 AM
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Great article, thank you for your service.
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Old 04-17-2019, 09:35 AM
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Alcohol and boating just don't mix. There is always the few that will say "I can handle it" and they probably can but the majority can't. Even if the driver is sober a drunk passenger can make a bad situation happen quick. I just don't allow alcohol on my boat. Nothing against it but not while boating. Thanks for keeping us safe out there! We need it.
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Old 04-17-2019, 09:50 AM
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Originally Posted by Fishman39 View Post
Alcohol and boating just don't mix. There is always the few that will say "I can handle it" and they probably can but the majority can't. Even if the driver is sober a drunk passenger can make a bad situation happen quick. I just don't allow alcohol on my boat. Nothing against it but not while boating. Thanks for keeping us safe out there! We need it.
You make an important point. 50% of the alcohol related fatalities do not involve the operator.
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:02 AM
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I can't understand why people require the connection between boating/fishing and alcohol. You see postings all the time on THT that imply boating is no fun without a cooler of beer. Can you imagine someone saying "I always have a few beers while driving home on the Garden State Parkway after a long day on the water, it makes the drive a lot of fun!"

There is a place by me on Barnegat Bay called "F Cove," which is a cove in the shape of the letter F, where people beach their boats and most drag out coolers of beer to imitate their heroes from the Jersey Shore show. I've taken guests through that bedlam just for chuckles, and there is usually the question of how they get home after getting wasted there. My reply is always "no clue, but you won't find me on the Bay in that area at sundown." Crazy.
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:18 AM
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Does BUI result in loss of vehicle drivers license?
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by VaporTrail1 View Post
Does BUI result in loss of vehicle drivers license?
Depends on the state.

Boating%20Under%20the%20Influence]http://www.uscgboating.org/regulations/state-boating-laws-details.php?id=27&title=[5.2]Boating%20Under%20the%20Influence
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:23 AM
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Originally Posted by VaporTrail1 View Post
Does BUI result in loss of vehicle drivers license?
Used to in SC. That went away around 2011. I think tied to a supreme court decision related to that topic. Assuming that other states were impacted the same way.
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:32 AM
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Thank you!
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:35 AM
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At a quick glance, that table appears out-of-date or inaccurate. I would not rely on it.
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:36 AM
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Great reminder. I just finished shooting a PSA for Ride Dry. Drive Dry. , a not for profit funded by a grant admin'd by the USCG.
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:44 AM
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Some people can in fact drink in moderation and still operate a boat. Believe it or not, drinking a beer while behind the helm is LEGAL. The Coast Guard even has complete authority to board a vessel (with absolutely no probable cause necessary) and preform a field sobriety test (which to me is more frightening than the above). I understand that accidents happen and people get hurt- that's just life. But some people want to enjoy life (it is short) and there is no need to demonize people who are just trying to enjoy themselves (within the confines of the law- like the sailor who was below the legal limit but still required stop what he was doing).
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Last edited by apalehorse; 04-17-2019 at 10:52 AM.
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by apalehorse View Post
Some people can in fact drink in moderation and still operate a boat. Believe it or not, drinking a beer while behind the helm is LEGAL. The Coast Guard even has complete authority to board a vessel (with absolutely no probably cause necessary) and preform a field sobriety test (which to me is more frightening than the above). I understand that accidents happen and people get hurt- that's just life. But some people want to enjoy life (it is short) and there is no need to demonize people who are just trying to enjoy themselves (within the confines of the law- like the sailor who was below the legal limit but still required stop what he was doing).
perhaps this is a good place to get some clarification but from what i recall, field sobriety tests must be conducted on land?

and from what i recall, uscg tends to leave bui enforcement to local LEO?

unless something has changed?

ps: Operation Dry Water
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Old 04-17-2019, 10:56 AM
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Originally Posted by apalehorse View Post
Some people can in fact drink in moderation and still operate a boat. Believe it or not, drinking a beer while behind the helm is LEGAL. The Coast Guard even has complete authority to board a vessel (with absolutely no probable cause necessary) and preform a field sobriety test (which to me is more frightening than the above). I understand that accidents happen and people get hurt- that's just life. But some people want to enjoy life (it is short) and there is no need to demonize people who are just trying to enjoy themselves (within the confines of the law- like the sailor who was below the legal limit but still required stop what he was doing).
is it legal in all 50 states? i know when i checked a few years ago there was nothing on the books but a lot has changed the past few years. some states have enacted bui laws and linked to dui laws etc

i agree, in moderation should be ok for most. being out on the water can be disorienting in of itself. those that cannot handle it or are inexperienced boaters probably should not do it but many people probably are able to handle ok and are experienced enough boaters.
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Old 04-17-2019, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by DarcizzleOffshore View Post
Great reminder. I just finished shooting a PSA for Ride Dry. Drive Dry. , a not for profit funded by a grant admin'd by the USCG.
Awesome Darci, thanks for that. What we realize as we sit in national boating safety conferences discussing boating safety is that we are almost all aging males. There ares some aging females as well. Few people in our circles are young. We realize that we have limited influence on many of the younger generation. We must find young ambassadors for our messages, and you make a great one. Do you know when yours is going to be released?
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Old 04-17-2019, 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by mystery View Post
perhaps this is a good place to get some clarification but from what i recall, field sobriety tests must be conducted on land?

and from what i recall, uscg tends to leave bui enforcement to local LEO?

unless something has changed?

ps: Operation Dry Water

The Coast Guard and most states have gone to a seated battery that can be administered afloat. Operation Dry Water

If the state has officers available to turn a BUI over to, the Coast Guard normally will.
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Old 04-17-2019, 12:00 PM
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As I've gotten older, I really cannot tolerate hangovers like I could back in college.

The perfect excuse for not drinking? "I have to drive the boat!"

Don't get me wrong, I'll have a beer or two when I'm out for the day, but it's always at anchor and only when it's safe to do so.
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Old 04-17-2019, 12:16 PM
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Love me some beer 🍺 but I never drink on the boat. Just too much can go wrong, but don’t mind a little smoke🤫
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Old 04-17-2019, 12:25 PM
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I've not consumed alcohol when I was the captain, but have had a beer or two on the return trip from fishing. That cold one still tastes pretty good when opened on the dock after a day on the water.
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Old 04-17-2019, 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by USCG Safe Boating D8 View Post
The Coast Guard and most states have gone to a seated battery that can be administered afloat. Operation Dry Water

If the state has officers available to turn a BUI over to, the Coast Guard normally will.
I would like to know if a boater may decline a field sobriety test including from the CG without violating the law or incriminating themselves. I know in many states it is well established that an individual may decline these tests without violating implied consent, and the only test you must submit to is a blood or breath test at a fixed location.

I ask because I have seen firsthand how inaccurate the field sobriety tests can be, both based on an officer's personal confirmation biases, incorrect or lack of training, and factors pertaining to the subject (minor learning, social, or psychological disorders). Also that study you linked "Validation of sobriety tests for the marine environment" shows some shockingly low accuracy numbers for common tests, especially considering the amount of training and practice the four officers who participated in the study were given.

AAP%20Validation%20of%20sobriety%20tests%20for%20the%20marine%20environment%20030511.pdf
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Last edited by dell30rb; 04-17-2019 at 01:35 PM.
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